Bayard Wilkeson was an artillery officer in the Civil War that died on the first day of Gettysburg. His bravery and courage was displayed hours before his death when he amputated his own leg in efforts to save his own life. His father, a war correspondent for the NY Times, was also at the battle of Gettysburg and found his son on July 4th, 1863, the day after the end of the battle. In his editorial the father wrote: “Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendently absorbing interest—the dead body of an oldest born…My pen is heavy. Oh, you dead, who at Gettysburgh have baptised with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied!” Just over four months later, standing on a hill not far from where young Bayard Wilkeson had died, Abraham Lincoln invoked a similar sentiment: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
In 2013, as part of “Extended Learning Time” and using Google Cultural Institute, thirty-four students studied Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Professor Matthew Pinsker’s interactive presentation introduced documents that surrounded the Gettysburg Address. One of the documents was a dramatic newspaper dispatch from Sam Wilkeson, the father of a fallen son.
Being moved by the unimaginable pain of a son’s death and inspired by Lincoln’s words, two 8th grade historians, Alyssa Etheridge and Lauren Lonas led thirty-four students in creating the Bayard Wilkeson Project. In memory of “these honor dead”, these middle school historians worked every day since the end of October to honor all of the 142 soldiers from Oregon that have died in Afghanistan and Iraq so that Oregonians know that they “shall not have died in vain.” The Bayard Wilkeson Project website and interactive map has a picture of each fallen Oregonian, a brief biography, and a hyperlink to each soldier’s obituary.
On n 2014, four sixth graders, Scott Huddleston, Cameron Jipp, Ryan Maier, and Michell Wagerle, expanded the Bayard Wilkeson Project. For the past two years at South Middle School, these young men through a Kiwanis Builders Club fundraiser raised $300 to buy miniature Oregon and United States flags for each of Oregon’s fallen soldiers. The week before Memorial Day, these young men honor Oregon’s fallen by setting up and displaying all 142 pairs of flags along the fence line of South Middle School for these young men, “take increased devotion to that cause for which they her gave the last full measure of devotion.
In the fall of 2016, the same sixth grade boys have further expanded the Bayard Wilkeson Project through the interviewing of World War II veterans. Intending to preserve history, they have found a 93-year-old veteran who survived Pearl Harbor, the young historians want to create a documentary on local veterans.