Based on the concept of “Take a Veteran to School Day,” the annual Veterans Day Celebration at Egling Middle School has become an educational program on service in the military.
About two dozen veterans from all branches of the military showed up at the school on Thursday to speak to fifth graders about their time in the service.
Some served in the Korean War; others served during times of peace. Most served in Vietnam.
“This is my ninth year doing this,” said teacher Mark Abbay. “The first year I had three veterans. This year we had 23 or 24.”
Abbay said once he started the program, which takes just about an hour, the students enthusiastically started asking if their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, family friends, and even neighbors could participate.
“It grew by word of mouth,” Abbay said. “It’s awesome. It’s great that the students can come in and say ‘that’s my dad or that’s my grandfather up there.’ Some of them are really excited about the fact that they have a chance to share their relatives.”
Tatiana Lopez, 10, enthusiastically brought her great-grandfather, Maurice “Happy” Green, of Colusa, who was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne from 1963-65, serving in Panama and Colombia.
“I’ve heard all his stories,” said Lopez, with a big smile. “I’m proud of him.”
Posters depicting all the branches of service lined the walls of Egling’s Library, and a poster drawn by students a number of years ago displayed the words “I am proud to be an American. Thank you veterans for all that you have done for us.”
“There is a lot of history here,” Abbay said. “The kids have a chance to hear the veterans’ stories, and it’s an opportunity for the veterans to let the kids know that they are just regular people too. It gives them a chance to share.”
In addition to learning what branch of service each veteran had been a part of, the kind of duties they performed, the length and location of their service, students learned through a series of questions posed to the group about boot camp, military vehicles, their reasons for entering the service, the kind of food they ate, and whether they regretted their time in the military.
The government had drafted some during times of conflict; others enlisted alone or with a buddy.
“I joined up with my girlfriend’s brother and we went in together,” Green said. “We got split up the first day at the induction station. He got sent to Germany, and I got sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Now he’s my brother-in-law.”
Although this was Green’s first showing at the Egling Middle School celebration, others have repeatedly returned to share their stories.
Art Blaine, Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy, retired, in full dress uniform, went into the Navy at the end of World War II, and served also in the Korea and Vietnam wars. He has attended the program every year.
In addition to hearing the veterans tell their stories, students got to see an assortment of vintage military vehicles parked in front of the school. ■