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The Thrill of the Search

    When my class was presented this project, I could not think of a single thing that I could contribute.  I decided that until I could come up with a specific topic to research I would help decipher the scribbles that covered these documents. I had no qualifications for decoding them, just my basic rational.  The undertaking seemed daunting.  My knowledge of World War II generals was limited, leaving me with no choice but to ask for help from peers and search for the general’s names online.  Our best bet was to take it name by name, letter by letter.  The first name proved to be difficult; everyone who looked at the signature saw different letters.  Eventually we stretched our minds to see what we thought was a “B” was an “S” and the “S” heading the last name was actually a greatly tilted “M."  The rush that came with putting it all together was amazing.  What began as scribbles became a name, a person.  Sherman Miles now held the honor of being first discovered.  The feeling of success empowered me to treat the whole process, of deciphering, as a simple yet intellectually satisfyng game. Our goal was basic, figure out the names, but the reward was astronomical.  These weren’t just names; they were people.  Each name symbolized a person who shaped the Allies victory in World War II.  When a signature was identified, it was as if the ink on the page became these historic generals.   I was not the only one to feel this way, many wanted in on the “game”.  Giant sheets of paper were tapped to the board to publically record where we were with the name count.   Other class periods would continue wherever we left off last.  Each day I would enter class and see how the list had grown on the board.  It became a competition.  Who would figure out that next name, who would give this next signature life?  The characteristics of each ‘John Hancock’ started to catch my attention.  How much room a person took, the neatness of the handwriting, whether they dated it or not, how they wrote their military title, all of these things fascinated me.  The uniqueness of each pen stroke was a constant reminder that these names are not merely characters in a War that I have studied; these signatures were people.  To think about their day-to-day lives, their morals, their habits all bolstered their image in my mind.  These were not strategically perfect generals per say, but incredible men who arguably saved Democracy when it was threatened by dictatorship and fear.   The reward of this "game" was more than learning how to read messy handwriting, but to inspire a greater appreciation and understanding of the men who defined World War II and the future of Democracy.

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