Veterans speak to students about military experiences

United States military veterans met with students Friday, Nov. 6 and shared personal experiences during their active years in service.

The event was hosted by history teacher Brett Landis, who enlisted the help of other staff members to assist with the preparation and planning of the event. Through this experience, he hoped to engage students in civic awareness and expose them to the important roles veterans play in their lives.

“We usually get Veterans’ Day off, but perhaps now students would understand what Veterans’ Day actually commemorates and think of the veterans they saw. And maybe they would have an understanding about the issues that confront veterans. [Veterans] are not just simply the guys who have served in the military. There are some really poignant issues that students might learn about because of the assembly they attended,” Landis said.

In total, 25 veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam War, World War II and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sat with groups of students, introduced themselves and gave guidance and opinions based on the decisions that have affected their own lives.

“During my 21 years serving in the Air Force, I lived by the six principles of the Tuskegee airmen: aim high, believe in yourself, use your brain, dive in when you have the opportunity, never, ever give up and lastly, believe you will win,” Master Sgt. Buford Johnson said. “I wanted to be the best. I always felt that if you could do it, I could do it, but I could probably do it better. For 21 years, I never lost a single airplane or pilot. I was an aircraft mechanic; I always had to get it right the first time. There was no room for mistakes.”

Many veterans also spoke of their education and paths to earning their diplomas while engaging in the armed forces. Major Neil Reich, a veteran who served during the Korean War, Vietnam War and World War II was drafted into the Marine Corps while in high school, which interrupted his education. He took extension courses as well as night and weekend classes to earn his law degrees, which he received after retiring just before reaching the age of 28.

“What I want to convey to the students is the importance of continuing their education without having interferences like I did,” Reich said. “The military took priority over everything else in my life, so I worked hard to earn my law degree. And after four years, it finally paid off.”

After the veterans revealed their backgrounds and prior experiences in the military, students were allowed to ask them questions about specific situations, life-changing memories and other related topics.

“[The veterans’] stories about being in the military made me more aware of how different their lives were while they were enlisted and what they had to face in those years. They shared a bunch of crazy stories, which caused me to think about life more,” junior Rachel Lee said. “My perspective of the veterans’ lives changed after the assembly. I always thought that while they were enlisted in the service, they would be constantly working, which is true; but listening to their stories made me realize that they also had a lot of fun too.”
As this year marks the second consecutive occasion of the event, Landis looks to continue the tradition in future years to give the students an experience that will stick with them and to impact the way they view history.

“I felt like I was watching history unravel before me because the veterans are kind of like artifacts of the era they fought in,” senior Andrew Kwang said. “Some veterans joined because they wanted to fight for a greater cause. Other people found their true self by joining the army or Marine Corps. Because of that, I felt more empathetic of their experiences. I mean, real artifacts can’t talk. But hearing directly from a living person who experienced important events in history is quite gratifying.”

By Jessica Huang, Staff writer
Photo by Sajid Iqbal

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