Do you have any medals? How hard was boot camp? What was the food like? What’s it like to blackout because of G-forces in a B-52 bomber?
Those are just a few of the many questions kids asked local veterans last week. The local Mount of the Holy Cross VFW post 10721 veterans visited 19 schools in Eagle County.
Leading up to Veteran’s Day, local vets from all branches of the military attend receptions, assemblies and classroom talks. Kids from all grade levels were able to learn more about what it was like to be on a tour of duty or to serve during a time of peace. The kids honored them with songs, messages of appreciation and an ear to listen to their stories.
We visited Brush Creek Elementary last Wednesday and sat in on one of the talks in Mr. Musser’s 5th-grade class. After the assemblies, one or two veterans go into the classrooms to discuss their experiences and bring in items from their time of service to show the kids. For over 45 minutes, the students were glued to every word the guest speakers were saying.
Guest speakers in this classroom were United States Marine Corps Captain Bill Welch who spoke about his service during wartime in Vietnam. Dana Whelan was in the United States Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel and spoke of her service during peacetime.
Welch wore his fatigues and talked about everything from how hot it was and how bad the bugs were to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and how the only way they could communicate with friends and family back home was through letters. He showed the kids where Vietnam was on the map and why they slept with their boots on.
“There was this one time I took off my boots, just for a little bit, but then I fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and my legs were burning! I couldn’t turn on a flashlight in case the enemy was watching, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I had slept near a big red ant hill,” Welch said.
Whelan spoke about the amazing opportunities she had in furthering her education and how service members are highly trained and are able to take on a lot of different challenges. During her time in the military, she was able to work and earn several degrees in places such as Washington, D.C., Wyoming, Alabama, Texas and Ramstein, Germany where she was in charge of nutrition for all of the branches of the U.S. military stationed in Europe.
“I think the thing that’s most meaningful to me about the Veteran’s Day events is giving kids that may have no exposure to military service the opportunity to hear stories of veterans,” Whelan said. “Hopefully we’ll inspire them to go home and ask their families about family members who have served and provide a chance for them to really appreciate and have some gratitude for what so many people have done for our country.”
The kids paid attention and did bring that conversation home. Michelle Sanders, the mother of Wynn Sanders, a 5th-grader in Mr. Musser’s class at Brush Creek Elementary, said that Wynn came home full of enthusiasm about the talks. “He explained in great detail what the veterans said that day. We had an engaging dinner conversation and it was fun to hear his perspective on the veteran’s visit,” Sanders said.
As much as the kids benefit from the school visits, the veterans benefit as well. “I’ve only been doing these school visits for a couple of years now and when I first started I would get kind of emotional,” Welch said. “It’s good for us to talk about it.”
The Mount of the Holy Cross VFW post 10721 veterans will host a Veteran’s Day ceremony that is open to the public at Freedom Park in Edwards on Monday at 4 p.m.