Each year at our school we have a Veteran’s Day program. It is an attempt to teach this generation of children not to forget those who lived selflessly before them. It is an intentionally solemn and serious program. Last year our speaker, Trecy Kent husband of fifth grade teacher Martha Kent, was skyped in from Iraq. That in combination with his son Page speaking, allowed our students into the intimate, painful place in which military families live. This year, as Trecy spoke again in front of them in the flesh, they got to experience the joy that follows the long separations. Last year was about moments missed. This year was about being amazing wherever you are. The best tribute you can give a veteran is to be selfless every day and make a difference in YOUR world. It was a wonderful lesson and once again, the kids “got it.”
Afterwards, the students I teach made cards. The notes penned there were evidence of their care for Veterans. However, I wish you could hear the discussions we have before they make the cards. I believe these discussions solidify the understanding of past sacrifices. We talked about the last WWI vet who died last year at the age of 110. We talked about all the family members and friends they know that served…and some who died. We talked about how quickly we are losing our WWII vets, as evidenced by the fact that none stood when that war was called out in the program. Our community’s most famous WWII Vet, Mr. Arnold, who went into the death camps to liberate those held captive, did not attend this year due to the fact that he is battling cancer. Our discussions make children think. They bring history to life.
As an adult, the thing I find most refreshing about these reflections, is that not once is politics mentioned. Not one student talks about anything but respect for those who serve. Never do they mention any politician or their policies. In fact, when they hear that Vietnam Vets were not treated well upon returning to the states, they clap even harder when those that attend the program stand as the conflicts are called out one by one. What the kids do not always see, is the reaction of the Veterans. The gym is a crowded place with the entire school plus the veterans and their families. From where I stand, I get a good view of the tears that flow on the faces of our service men and women both past and present. After the program when they walk down the hallway between a column of cheering sixth graders waving flags, I have the opportunity to watch them stand a little taller. Some allow the tears to run down their faces, others shake hands, and some grin from ear to ear. They bask in the validation and appreciation shown by this generation of children.
This year I talked to a man who was in Korea who was teary eyed. He shared his story of how he lost part of a finger to frostbite. Another told of his service in Vietnam. The Desert Storm vets remember the heat and the sand. No matter what the conflict in which they served, they are all humble and feel that they were just doing their jobs….a small thing in their eyes. However, looking back, we can see that all those small things added up to heroic things. I think it is one day they feel comfortable to share their stories, which of course, I go back into the classroom and share with our students. I am quite sure these men and women’s stories of personal sacrifice will not be on the CRCT test in the spring. But sometimes the most important lessons students learn are not academic. Veteran’s Day is one of the days that students learn about character, and what it looks like up close and personal. THAT, to me, is what teaching is all about.