Alameda High School Students Learn about The Korean War—from Someone Who Was There

photo showing students in classroom listening to presentation
Alameda High School juniors
Photos by Gerard Parker, KWMF

KWMF’s Education Director Wallace T. “Wally” Stewart is a man with a mission: to ensure that Korean War history is included in the curriculum of secondary schools. To help accomplish this mission, he has personally taught classes about the war to high school students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. His lesson plans cover the war’s geopolitical causes, major military developments, outcome, and lessons learned — as well as its direct relevance to the global tensions that remain rooted in the region today.

The native San Franciscan’s credentials for this role are two-fold. First, he saw combat in the Korean War as an eighteen-year-old Marine. So he has visceral knowledge and still-vivid memories of what it was like. And second, following his military service and subsequent studies at Stanford University, he had a long and rewarding career as a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District. So he knows how to teach.

Wally’s most recent effort occurred on Friday, April 12, when he was the guest lecturer in teacher Michael O’Malley’s junior social studies class at Alameda High School. When the physically fit 86-year-old, wearing his Marine uniform from the 1950s, told the students that he was about their age when he served in Korea, he made a connection. And students who had at first seemed rather disinterested proved to be more curious in the animated Q & A session that came at the end of Wally’s presentation.

photo of Wallace Stewart in front of class giving lecture
Wally describes what Korea was like in the early 1950s. Two students pore over Wally’s handout materials while Alameda Unified School District Social Studies teacher Michael O’Malley observes.

Wally is aware, of course, that he and his fellow Korean War veterans will not be around forever, and that other, younger teachers will have to carry the torch forward. With that in mind, Wally has attended the National Council of Social Studies annual convention for the past two years, and donated his teaching materials to the participating educators. As a result, his lesson plans have now been implemented by social studies teachers in schools well beyond the Bay Area: in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and other states. Writer George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Wally Stewart is doing his part to see to it that the Korean War will be remembered.