SHRUB OAK, N.Y. - When’s the last time you asked a veteran “what’s your story?”
World War II veteran Dave Mann urged students to do just that last Thursday, as he shared his story before a crowded auditorium at Lakeland High School.
Mann, a recipient of the Purple Heart, spoke of patriotism from his first word, as he guided the entire auditorium through the Pledge of Allegiance before he began speaking.
“I’m in love with my flag,” Mann said. “Any time I see the flag I will salute.”
He came armed with his Purple Heart and his book, “What I Fought For,” which details his time as a soldier. Before deployment as a combat engineer, Mann was told: “Kill or be killed, behave yourself and, when you come home, try not to come home in a body bag.”
As Mann continued, his stories all shared one simple theme: “Never take the flag for granted.” His patriotism captivated those in attendance, including 16-year-old Lakeland student Josh Green.
“I admire the way that Mr. Mann has such a feeling of patriotism,” Green said. “It makes it all the more exciting to listen to his stories [about] where he’s been and who he’s met.”
When all was said and done, the level of respect for veterans had changed for some students. Their engagement throughout and questions after Mann finished speaking permeated the auditorium with pride.
Gerri Schwalb, president of the Yorktown Rotary Club, which brought Mann to Lakeland, took notice.
“I think the intergenerational aspect of this is so phenomenal,” Schwalb said. “I’m not sure if teenagers get the respect for generations past the way they might have years ago and this was an opportunity for them to actually come in contact with someone that they could respect.”
After the questions, students were able to meet Mann and sign his book.
“One of the things we really push for is for students to access primary source documents,” said Lakeland social studies coordinator Mel Rafferty. “He is a living primary source document.”
Mann told his story as he was asked to, he said. When he spoke, he felt the audience did what it could to return the favor.
“They gave me the best thing anybody could give when I’m standing and talking to a whole bunch of people,” Mann said. “That is attention.”