The Veterans Day program at Pequot Lakes High School was a success by all accounts. Adults and students alike enjoyed the message from Dr. Bob Uppgaard and the stories of five other servicemen.
More than the usual number of people commented on the program and the need for more of “that stuff” to be taught in school. The theme continued when I visited the American Legion at the veterans lunch. A veteran who had recently passed was shown in a movie telling his story and declaring that “kids these days don’t learn about this stuff; they don’t even know what happened.”
Again and again, all day I heard this same theme: This is important, kids need to know it, we need to teach more of this in schools.
As a former history teacher, I am very fond of Veterans Day and its special meaning to me and my family. I could tell tales from my grandfather who served in World War II and, while modest about his service and reluctant to tell all the details, would regale us grandkids with his stories of driving a jeep on the front lines in France. Again and again we would ask him to tell his stories and then tell some more.
As I reflected on the day, the concern of an older generation on the seeming lack of interest by youth in the events of history contrasted by the comments from parents who said their children found this year’s program to be especially good, I was struck by the notion that the key to it all … was the story.
Our veterans experienced the making of history first hand. They lost brothers on the battlefield in the defense of our nation's freedoms. It means everything to them and they want the youth today to understand that history. They can taste it, shed a tear when they think of it, and lie awake at night with the weight of survivor's guilt when they think of those that never came home.
We may never understand history like those who lived it. My own children who were born after Sept. 11 will never know the fear that gripped a nation as we waited for more planes to hit that day. But, they will know it better and understand its significance in a greater way if I tell them of my experience that day. What I felt and how I cried for those trapped above those burning floors, the significance of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium just a few days later, or what a different experience flying would become in the years that followed that fateful day.
The theme of this year’s Veterans Day was “Service is Personal.” We tried to develop the idea that being a soldier has a very real and personal side as well. The same is said for the learning of history. Tell a child a story and watch them become enchanted in the details, asking questions, thirsting for more.
The story of a veteran is personal and it captures the interest of the listener to know more and to understand deeper. Having never served in the military, I can never know what it was like to have faced the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge; however, I can know it more than a chapter in a book when I listen to a veteran tell of their experience as they froze in their foxholes as the Germans showered them with shotgun shells all night.
Kids these days are no different than kids of any other time. They are self-absorbed and unaware of the course of history that flows around them. We can help them know more deeply the significance of the history of our great nation by telling them.
Go ahead, tell them. They really are listening.