Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reading The Wall on Veterans' Day

Since I am fairly well known in my community as "public veteran", i.e., I appear at a lot of functions and events wearing my Vietnam Veteran ball cap, I was asked to help a local grade school with their Veteran's Day celebration.

"I'll need to check with my parole officer first," was my first response. It was followed by a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the phone.

"I'm just kidding," I added quickly. "So what will I need to do?"

"Just read something to one of our classes. We have kindergarten, 3rd grade and 5th grade classes available for you to volunteer in."

A moment's thought. "Jeez, kindergartners are messy and smelly and have the attention span of a gnat, and fifth graders these days are already hitting puberty and some of them may be packing heat. I'll take the third graders."

Which is what I got. When I showed up at the Garfield School they gave me my reading material, a children's book called The Wall, by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler(!). When I first heard the title, I was expecting maybe an abridged version of John Hersey's great book about the Warsaw Ghetto, The Wall, which I thought might be a little age-inappropriate for ten-year-olds.

But no, to my surprise, it was a book about a young boy's visit to the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington DC with his father to look for his grandfather's name.

It was actually a very moving book and I could hardly keep myself from choking up a couple of times while reading it. If you know children about that age, I highly recommend that you get it for them. As I say, it was a very moving story and a great introduction for children to the concept of the Vietnam War.

The kids were great, each and every one of them was quiet and well-behaved, and either really interested in what I was reading or making a great face of looking that way. Afterwards they came up and asked a bunch of ten-year-old questions. At that age they can be fairly blunt: "Did you kill anyone?" No. "Did you have friends who died and are on the Wall?" Yes, about a dozen of them. And so on.

And then we all filed out of the classroom and down what seemed to me to be a tiny hall -- it was constructed for gradeschoolers after all -- to the gym, where I joined up with about a dozen more veterans who had volunteered for an assembly where we were all honored and thanked for our service.

It was really nice, a really sweet thing to do, and I was happy to be able to do it. Now I thinking of volunteering more at the school, since everyone knows that the public schools need our help. If you ever get a chance to do something like this, go for it. You will surprise yourself at what happens when you do.


the yellow fringe said...

This was great as you describe it. Thanks. If I can toot a horn here for a couple of lines, you might be interested to check out a vet group I am active with and act as a listening post in my area for; Operation Free. Mostly vets from the oil wars, but some of us Viet Nam era are involved too. They advocate for getting off fossil fuel as a way to reduce our participation in future wars and the jobs a new energy economy brings for vets. They rarely bother you with action requests and never ask for money.

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks YF. Here's an active link to Operation Free. I'll also be adding it to my Links section when I get a moment.