Veterans share their experiences with Brentwood middle schoolers
Mike Kelly would do it all again — the frightening first day on duty, the training on a raft in the open sea, and the months away from family and friends.
“It's the job,” Kelly, 71, of Baldwin Township, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1960 to 1986, repeated several times to the room full of Brentwood Middle School students last week.
Nearly 20 veterans who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam shared their experiences with the 285 middle school students in honor of Veterans Day, a national holiday on Nov. 11.
The program was started several years ago at Brentwood Middle School by social studies teacher Casey Phillips and used to include only a handful of veterans talking to sixth-graders. This year, with the help of long-term substitute math teacher Nicole Davis, the program was bolstered to include more veterans, from their mid-20s to early 90s.
Hearing what the veterans experienced during their years of service is meant to help give the students an appreciation for their lives, Phillips said.
“All the freedom and nice things that we experience, it's because of the service people who laid it all on the line,” he said.
Meeting the veterans also helped the students to understand that the veterans were just like them, Davis said.
“Just make sure you respect everyone at all times, you don't know what they did for you,” she said.
The veterans enjoyed having a chance to reflect on their time in the service, they said.
“We're proud of being veterans. I'm proud of being a Marine,” said Bob Stoodt, 64, of South Park, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a past commander of the Brentwood Veterans of Foreign Wars. “I'll never stop being a Marine.”
Each veteran shared a different story, but they all had a common theme: They loved the time they spent serving their country.
“I can't remember ever being unhappy when I was in the service. Of course, there was a lot of sadness involved. People lost their lives. But I enjoyed what I did,” said Morton Parker, 93, of Whitehall, a U.S. Navy Veteran who served in World War II.
The youngsters wanted to know it all: Did you get to come home for the holidays? How long were you away from your family? What was your favorite meal while you were away?
What was it like to land a plane on a carrier?
“It's like trying to drive through the Liberty Tunnels at night with just a candle at the other end,” said Al DiLembo, 89, of Baldwin Borough, who served in the Air Force in World War II.
How about those meals?
Louisiana hot sauce made anything taste appetizing, Kelly said.
And if they were invited back to serve now would they, the students wanted to know.
“No, I'm too old,” Kelly said, laughing.
Parker said he learned valuable lessons in the service.
“You do the best possible job you can in whatever you're doing,” Parker said. “Just be a person where you want to contribute. Don't tear down.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.