RANDOLPH, NJ- Sacrifice and Appreciation were the words of the day. Randolph Middle School students heard Veterans stories of the good, the bad, and everything in between, ranging from the final days of WWII up to modern day Afghanistan.
While telling one class the story of the battles of Normandy and Okinowa, the two largest amphibious assaults in world history, one vet explained, “Many of these guys were just 18 and 19 years old. They knew about parties and having fun like you kids. But when they went over seas to invade France and Japan, many of them were killed immediately, just trying to get from the boats to the beach, and they never came home.”
He continued, “Now the point here is that yes, it is all very sad. But what did those guys do? They sacrificed. They gave their lives so that you guys, and all Americans coming after them, could have great lives and enjoy all the opportunity in the world. We all need to appreciate that.”
Major Harlan McKinney, who has attended the school event for a few years now, explained why he comes each year, “I'm active duty in the army locally at Piccatinny Arsenal. It’s great to come here and speak to the kids to convey what really happens as best I can. Kids hear things and see stuff on the news, so anything I can do to dispel what is rumor, and deliver the truth is good and I am happy to do it.
One veteran told a story of being in the Military Police over in Iraq, having detained thousands of prisoners. He explained their uniforms were filthy and they were infested with lice and other maladies.
The American soldiers had the prisoners begin to dig a large hole, at which point many of the Iraqi’s started crying. An interpreter explained the prisoners thought they were digging their own grave.
When they were told they were digging a hole to burn their filthy clothes and get new clean ones, they started laughing and singing while they dug.
Colonel Mike Hill spent eleven years in active duty in the army, and is currently a member of the reserves. Hill was involved in the Veterans Day presentation by Skype from Afghanistan two years ago.
When asked about his talks with the kids, Hill stated, “What I hope, is that the kids will gain an appreciation of our veterans, and understand what military service is all about.”
Hill added, “Doing the Skype thing from Afghanistan was great. Being here in person is a little more challenging; or maybe I should say intimidating with all the kids staring right at you.”
Another veteran told stories of Boot Camp, carrying a hundred pounds of equipment while running or doing push-ups and pull-ups. He also explained a drill where soldiers were woken up in the middle the night and given 15 minutes to quickly break down their entire barracks, including their beds and all their belongings, and relocate everything.
Lee Wildon, an Army Nurse, was not much older than the kids listening to her talk when she got into the service. Wildon explained, “I was recruited to be a nurse in 1944, just a few weeks before my 17th birthday. There was a shortage of nurses and they had a campaign to sign people up so I joined.”
In another classroom, a veteran told students about having his bags searched in a routine TSA Airport checkpoint. The agent looked up at him and said, "The way these clothes are folded and packed, you must have been in the Military." This led to a class discussion on the benefits and values of organization, responsibility, and respect that are learned in the military.
When the sessions had concluded, the visiting Veterans enjoyed a hearty brunch in the cafeteria with their student family members.