HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Sacred Heart School student's documentary has been published in the July issue of International Journal of Naval History.
Thirteen-year-old Abigail Wiest said she has been interested in filmmaking and editing for years, and she combined that with her love of history to make her documentary on the U.S.S. Kirk for the Mississippi National History Day competition.
"My cousin would come over, and we would make little family videos," she said. "I instantly fell in love with it, and I had also really liked history. And when I found out about National History and that it put those two things together, I immediately wanted to try it."
She said the idea to focus on the U.S.S. Kirk came from learning about the Vietnam War in her English class.
"We listened to the NPR radio bit about the U.S.S. Kirk, and I thought it was a really cool story," she said. "I wanted to learn more about it even if I didn't do anything with it. I just wanted see what I could find, and when I heard their story and when I pulled up the interviews and listened to those, I thought it would go great with this year's topic."
That topic was "leadership and legacy," and her 10-minute documentary won first place in only her second year entering the competition.
While at the state competition, her dad and USM professor Andrew Wiest said Professor Charles Chadbourn from the Naval War College picked her project to look at more in depth.
"I thought that was really cool for him to pick my project to want to see and talk to me about," Wiest said. "And then a little while later, he talked to me about publishing it, and I just was so excited. I never really thought that this could happen for a 13-year-old. "
Wiest was just nominated for an Emmy for a Vietnam War documentary based on his book "Boys of '67: Charlie Company's War in Vietnam." But he said Abigail wanted to do this project all on her own.
"I really didn't play a role at all in this. In fact, she was pretty meticulous in making sure I didn't play a role in this because I do history for a living," he said. "The two times she's done documentaries, I was very anxious to see them, but she wouldn't show them to me until they were done because she didn't want anybody to say that I'd helped her. So I got to see the documentary along with everybody else."
He was also surprised that his daughter got international recognition at such an early age.
"There's professionals in my disciple who would love to be published in this journal, much less a 13-year-old," he said. "So it was really surprising to me that this international journal came to my daughter and said 'we want to publish you.' I've sent articles to journals before and had them sent back. 'We don't want to publish that.' But they came to her, which was really interesting and really neat to see. Kind of made a big grin spread across my face."
He said Abigail has always had an interest in history because "you can't live with me without being exposed to history," but has also seen him go through the process of making a historical documentary.
"She's seen me up late at night working on scripts, reviewing film and things like that. I think that perhaps that lit a fire under her to a small degree, but I don't know," he said. "She came pre-prepared with fire. She was ready on her own."
Along with the project, "U.S.S. Kirk: Leadership Amidst Chaos, A Legacy of Survival," the journal also published her annotated bibliography. Wiest was able to find members of the naval ship living in New Orleans to interview for her project.
"It was just really cool to see them and be able to hear their stories and all this stuff first hand because it's something that you don't normally get to do whenever you're making a documentary whenever you're 13," Abigail Wiest said.
Both Abigail and her dad said this experience has been "surreal."
"Very exciting," she said. "I was just speechless. I couldn't say anything. It was just sort of surreal because I just couldn't figure out that it was actually happening."
"It's kind of surreal," he said. "This experience makes me wonder what I was doing when I was 13, and I can guarantee you I wasn't publishing documentaries and making documentaries. I'm pretty sure I was riding my bike and getting into trouble. So it makes me kind of sit back and kind of think how great I have it as a parent that my daughter is able to do things like this. Sky's the limit for Abigail. She can do anything she wants to."
She said she is not sure if she wants to make documentaries for a living, but said she is thinking about it.
"I love it, and I think it's amazing to be able to make history come alive on film," she said. "And so having that be my job would be amazing. "