BERLIN – Last week teachers and students of Stephen Decatur Middle School held two days of Veterans Day events aimed at improving the students’ knowledge, not only of the types of people who serve, but also the types of service there are.
In planning the event, physical education teacher Mindy Bankert surveyed the students to get an idea of what kinds of presentations would have the greatest affect on them when it came to understanding military service.
She noticed, and students confirmed as much, that while the middle schoolers had an idea about military service it was more of a fuzzy understanding about people who wore uniforms.
“For me, I knew there was a military but [the presentations] made it clearer what each branch did,” said Hannah Duckworth, one of the participating students.
In an effort to get people from each branch of the armed services, Bankert contacted the Worcester County Veterans Memorial Foundation, which put her in touch with member Ed Little, a retired Navy captain.
Little, she said, was invaluable in coordinating the program and putting her in touch with various veterans.
As she began involving the kids in the planning one of her students, Hunter Cox, mentioned that his grandfather Austin Cox, was a WWII veteran. Bankert had already planned to invite the elder Cox but knowing his grandson was a student at SDMS made his presentation a little more personal.
Hunter said he’s heard stories from his grandfather before but many of the stories had a bigger impact on him as he saw his grandfather deliver his talk. The 91-year-old Cox was a Doughboy – infantryman – during the invasion of Normandy.
Cox spoke about the anticipation during the days he and the rest of the invasion force waited out the storm in the boats. He also told a powerful story about how the automatic floatation devices – which he called Mae Wests, a reference that floated directly over each student’s head – contributed to the drowning of many as the top-heavy soldiers floated upside-down and drowned.
Hunter, for his part, was proud to have his grandfather speak and touched by the gesture of being presented a replica of one of the senior Cox’s combat medals. It was a presentation that impressed the other students as well.
“I thought it was really sweet because Hunter was the one who asked him to come and talk to us,” Duckworth said.
Michael Todd, one of Cox’s classmates, said he was impressed by each of the speakers he had the opportunity to hear over the two days of talks.
“To hear the stories, I was tickled right to death over that,” he said. “They don’t teach us that stuff this year so it was a great chance to hear about the military.”
In addition to Cox and Little, who is now in the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well, retired Marine Corps Colonel Bill Rakow, retired Army Colonel Doug Slingerland and Air Force Tech Sergeant Carrie Dupuie spoke to students about the choice to serve and the obligations it brings.
Their presence likely helped spur the school-wide drive to provide needed items for the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Munya Sbeih.
“We got to be with the veterans and I think [my classmates] really loved it,” she said. “It really comes into our service learning.”
She said different academic classes were trying to collect different things. Some, for example, were collecting tuna fish and others baby wipes used to combat sand. Sbeih said she and many of the other students will likely redouble their efforts to give more in each of the classes after hearing fist hand, not only how difficult combat service is, but how important gifts from home are as well.