Add To Favorites

Pursuing a passion: Case student works to share veterans' stories

The Journal Times - 2/18/2024

Feb. 18—RACINE — Over the past several years, Jayden George, a junior at Case High School, has learned a lot about military history, his family and local veterans.

It began when he discovered a civil defense helmet in his grandmother's basement.

George enjoyed researching and learning more about the military item, and a new passion started.

He became fascinated by military artifacts and the people who had used them. George often bought military uniforms at area rummage sales and antique stores, accumulating hundreds of them.

In addition to buying uniforms, George has worked for about two years with Racine Area Veterans Inc.'s legacy museum and veterans center, 820 Main St.

He designs monthly displays that showcase area veterans' stories, and feature artifacts and uniforms, which are often donated by local residents.

The high schooler's time with RAVI started after his mother posted on Facebook asking if anyone had military uniforms. Someone from RAVI reached out, visited the George house and asked if the teenager wanted to work at the museum.

He immediately said yes.

"This was an outstanding opportunity to be able to show (uniforms) to people and to be able to bring all my stuff to life and for it to have a purpose," George said. "That was something I couldn't pass up."

Family connection

George has several family members who served in the military, mostly aunts and uncles. He said that is his biggest inspiration for continuing to research military history.

Along the way, George has also discovered information about his family.

Starting with a few ribbons, for example, he "rebuilt" one of his uncle's uniforms and learned about the man who wore the uniform.

The ribbons showed that his uncle, Jerry George, was in the Air Force and experienced combat.

Jayden George did research and determined that his uncle's plane was shot down in Guatemala, adding information to a relative's story.

For work he does with RAVI, George sometimes "builds" a veterans' uniform by acquiring the patches and medals the person received.

He enjoys learning about veterans and sharing their personal experiences.

"I like bringing some kind of personality to it," George said. "It's not about their uniform, it's about their story. Their story is what's really important."

Jennifer Humphreys, Case history teacher, said George excels at bringing people's stories to life.

George "is able to make people real," Humphreys said. "In history, sometimes it's hard for kids to visualize them as actual human beings, and Jayden has that quality where he can understand the humanity behind the stories of people. He's able to understand why people make decisions and why they react certain ways, because he just understands people."

For a recent World War II class assignment, Humphreys said George did a "phenomenal" project about brothers from Racine who were veterans: Robert and Bernard Navratil.

George also helped Case classmates with research for their projects, because the veterans museum has archives with access to primary source documents.

One of George's favorite parts of research is finding a photograph of someone in uniform, since that is a powerful way to better understand the person.

He loves going through archives and finding nuggets of information to help tell a fuller story about a veteran.

"If I'm looking for information on a guy and I just can't find it, it motivates me to want to find it more," George said. "If I can't find it, that means the general public can't find it. It's very important that people know these people's stories and what they sacrificed for us."

Consultant, next steps

George was recently a consultant for "Seven Sacrifices," a play performed in January at the Sixth Street Theatre that was produced in partnership with area veterans.

The play moved chronologically from the Civil War to the present day and included monologues based on letters sent during the wars from actors in authentic military uniforms from the veterans center.

The play drew from primary source documents featuring stories from Racine County veterans.

George mainly worked backstage, helping ensure performers wore the proper uniforms. He found the show deeply moving and appreciated its exploration of how the wars impacted people.

"It was extremely neat," George said. "It was very emotional. One second, I would be laughing. One second, it's a sad moment, I'd feel down. But it really showed Racine throughout the years, and I think it very, very nicely depicted what it was like from the home front during the war in many different theaters."

After high school, George is interested in attending Marquette University in Milwaukee, mainly because it has a military history major.

Humphreys said George is curious and asks excellent questions, and she looks forward to what he does next.

"It makes me excited for the next generation of historians, whether he becomes a professional historian or just an amateur," Humphreys said. "He's got some talent, and it's been really refreshing to see that."

George has lived in Racine his whole life. He appreciates learning about and sharing aspects of local history through everyday people, including veterans.

"Many people look down on Racine and think Racine is a bad place," George said. "I like to look at the reasons why we're good, like our manufacturing and our big companies, and the small people you don't recognize."

What started as simply finding a helmet has turned into a passion for history and storytelling, and George aims to continue pursuing that passion.


(c)2024 The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

Visit The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc. at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.