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Sit Down And Talk To A Veteran

In my last 19 years of teaching, our sixth grade social studies curriculum included World Wars I and II, the causes and effects, and America’s involvement with these conflicts. That, and the annual celebration of Veterans’ Day, made me feel our students could get a better understanding of the wars in our curriculum, by listening to people who actually experienced them, while at the same time, honoring them with a luncheon, thanking them for their service.

Our text book included information on the wars, but just general information. There was no emotional information to further the students’ comprehension about wars. I wasn’t in the military myself, so I could only relay what I read and what my dad told me, but I didn’t experience it. Those who accepted our invitation to lunch and shared their experiences, were the greatest teachers I could’ve ever hoped for to teach our students about the topic of war, and life.

They took orders and followed them. There was never any questioning, negotiating, or expressing their unfairness. There was no arguing the dress code of their military branch. There was no complaining about what food they were served to eat. They didn’t complain about weather, at least to those who commanded them. These were concessions they made freely upon enlisting to fight and protect freedom, the beliefs of our constitution, and try and defeat those trying to eliminate countries who believed in freedom, and our constitution.

All of this brings us to this coming Monday, as we celebrate Veterans’ Day 2019. The day honors those who served and returned from service in the military, those who served in battles, those who trained and prepared to be ready to serve in battle if, and when, the call was made. It’s a day to note the sacrifice, the risk of possibly losing home, family, job, career, arms, legs, physical abilities, and also mental faculties (resulting from seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling what they did as a soldier).

One thing that struck me and has stayed with me from our Veterans’ Day luncheons was, and is, that veterans want to share their experiences. They want to tell their story. They have tremendous pride in their service, though in many cases they watched friends and comrades suffer losses of limbs, even life. Their stories may be accompanied by tears of what they saw and experienced. Make no mistake though, their tears bring no shame, no lessening of them as soldiers, and no weakening of their character.

As I walked around witnessing the interaction between veteran and student, I saw most of the students enamored with the stories being told to them. There were few blinks on the part of the students. They clung to every word. They appeared starved to hear more from these grizzled old men or women wearing funny hats, who were literally telling them the war stories from their past. From the veterans’ side of the table, I saw men and women who didn’t want to stop talking, to stop telling their story, or feeding those kids what they wanted to hear. And what I shared with my teaching partners who went from table to table, was that we never had to remind students of their manners, to sit still, or to be quiet, as the topic of the one way conversation hypnotized the students until the question and answer portion of the program was at hand.

Then it hit me, how many veterans of the military are there, excluding the small number who honored us with their presence, who do get the chance to sit down, break bread, and share, what could be the greatest stories and lessons anyone could write. How many other veterans would welcome the chance to tell their story one more time, then one more time after that, etc. They’ve earned the opportunity to do that. But yet, as they wait and hope, often, few seek them out and ask them.

Sit down and talk to a veteran sometime. Better yet, sit down and let them talk to you. To all veterans, Happy Veterans’ Day. Thank you for your service.

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