By Caroline Yablon | Reporter
It was a rare opportunity for students of Vanguard College Preparatory School in Waco, Oaks Christian School in Calif. and Trinity Christian School in Va. to hear stories from World War II veterans like Wolfgang Kaupisch, who told students about his role in an assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler.
First Gentleman Brad Livingstone enlightened an audience at the Hankamer Academic Center at Baylor Thursday on how his passion shifted from a career the NBA to teaching, and how he has been able to impact the lives of his students through the veterans who have come to his classes to tell their stories for more than two decades.
Livingstone said while he was in college, his passion was basketball, until he realized he was never going to play in the NBA. He needed to find a new passion.
“What I thought was my passion was no more,” Livingstone said.
He said he thought he might like teaching, so he went back to school and got his Master’s degree in education.
In 1991, he got a job at Vanguard College Preparatory School in Waco teaching U.S. history, government, civics and economics.
Spring of 1993, Livingstone was asked an uncommon question by a couple of students that would lead him to his new passion.
“A group of five students came up to me and said ‘Mr. Livingstone, we love history. We liked your class before and we want to take an elective class and we want you to teach it,’” Livingstone said.
The students told him they were interested in World War II. He said he, too, has always been interested in World War II, so he agreed to teach the class and created the curriculum that summer.
Livingstone said while he was planning his curriculum for his new history course, he was watching the local Waco news as they were covering the anniversary for D-Day — an invasion of Normandy in operation overload in World War II. He was fascinated when he saw World War II veteran, member of the 82nd Airborne Division and path finder, Al Essig, give a speech.
That’s when he thought to himself, “I wonder if students would enjoy having veterans come and speak?”
Of course, this was before smartphones, so Livingstone got out the phone book and called Essig on his landline.
“Mr. Essig you dont know me, but would you come and share your stories,” Livingstone said.
Livingstone said Essig was hesitant at first because he didn’t think he was a good speaker, but he talked him into it.
Fall of 1993, Essig came to Livingstone’s class as the very first veteran to speak to his students. He talked about serving in the war when he was just 15 years old. He spoke about what he did in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and when he fought in Normandy.
As Essig was telling stories, Livingstone noticed something in his students.
“I’m looking around at these students and they are at the edge of their seats, and I’m thinking, ‘I think we got something here — this is pretty awesome,’” Livingstone said.
Soon after, he placed an ad in the paper asking for World War II veterans to contact him. Livingstone said his phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
From then on, Livingstone has had World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors come speak to his students at the many schools he has taught at.
A few that he mentioned and told stories about were Rudy Klinkradt, who was an ex-Hitler youth; John Bravos, who was an OSS (Office of Strategic Services) secret agent and assassin; Dr. Elane Geller, who was a Holocaust survivor and Louis Zamperini, a Ward War II veteran who is known for his life story told in the novel “Unbroken.”
Wolfgang Kaupisch is also on that list. He served in Germany and was a part of the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Livingstone said he would come speak to his students on what it was like to serve in the German Army.
Livingstone said he was on the phone with Wolfgang’s wife [Marie Harmon Kaupisch] one day, and she told him Wolfgang’s doctors said he’s not going to live much longer. Livingstone said she told him that Wolfgang told her these words:
“He’s not going to die until after he comes to speak to your students one last time.”
Livingstone said he was able to come speak to his students one last time before he died a week later in 2010.
Through his interest in World War II, Livingstone said he has been able to share his passion with his students.
“I wanted to share what World War II means to me, and that’s the people,” Livingstone said.
Not only does Livingstone want his students to learn about war through the veterans’ stories. He also wants to encourage them to thank veterans for their service.
“Look in their eye and say thank you for serving our country,” Livingstone said.
He said that over 22,000 veterans have been thanked for their service by his students over the course of 25 years.
Many students of Livingstone’s who took the course say it impacted their life.
Chelsea Zarroandia, a former Oaks Christian School student, said the course shaped her compassion for veterans. She works at a hospital in Santa Monica and sees a lot of patients and visitors who are veterans, so she said she thanks them for their service every chance she gets.
“Most of them are blown away by this. One of my colleagues stopped me one day and asked where I learned such respect and gratitude for veterans,” Zarroandia said. “I excitedly told her about my life-changing World War II class in high school and how much it shaped my perspective and attitude towards those who have served our country.”
Another former student from Oaks Christian School, Kane Roberts, said the World War II class was one of the most humbling experiences of his life.
“The men and women who served our country in the darkest days of world history inspired me to serve my country as an Army Infantryman and be my generation’s keeper,” Roberts said.
Livingstone worked at Vanguard College Preparatory School from 1991-2002 and is currently back on staff. He continues to teach World War II.