MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Tuesday, November 12th. So glad you’ve joined us today! Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Honoring veterans.
The number of Americans with military experience is on the decline. According to the Census Bureau, only 7 percent of American adults are veterans. Forty years ago, it was over twice that much. Which means fewer children grow up hearing stories from family members who served in the military.
BASHAM: To mark Veterans Day, many schools held special programs. But some have found even more creative ways to inspire respect for those who’ve served.
WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson takes us to a small school with a big heart for vets.
KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: When Wesson Attendance Center rolled out the red, white, and blue carpet for veterans last Friday, they started with breakfast. And that meant cafeteria workers started at sunrise.
CAFETERIA WORKER: How many biscuits did we do? We have a hundred people coming, so we have one, two, about 12 pans of biscuits. So we have a lot (GIGGLES)
Members of the student council came early, too. They wore their mandated Sunday best to greet veterans at the door.
AUDIO: [Sound of student welcoming a veteran]
After breakfast, vets sat in chairs lining the school’s hallways.
AUDIO: [Sound of students greeting vets]
Students from the elementary grades—600 of them—shook each veteran’s hand in a sort of “hall parade” that lasted at least half an hour.
Wesson Attendance Center is a public school for students grades K through 12. It has embraced this annual tradition for more years than administrators can remember. Organizer Susan Berch says it’s all about instilling honor in a generation that’s wrestling with entitlement issues.
BERCH: To help make the children aware that we’re not just given the freedom, but people fight for it each day. I’m emotional when I think about it because my dad was a veteran who attended every year, and he really looked forward to it…
Producing the event requires something veterans can appreciate—strategy. Beginning in September, students hold planning meetings and address invitations.
AUDIO: [Sound of band director counting off]
The band practices the Air Force song, as well as those of the other service branches.
And the day before the event, they decorate…
STUDENT: These are like streamers, right, and we’re going to fill them all over this door in a pattern of red, blue, and white…
…work on the sound system…
ANNOUNCER: Mic check one, two, three, four…
SOLOIST: Land where our fathers died…
…and move lots of chairs.
AUDIO: [Sound of students moving chairs]
It’s hard work, and the students genuinely seem to want to make the most of Veterans Day. After spending a few hours with them, it’s clear they’re trying to understand what it’s truly all about.
Rod Martin teaches eighth grade American history at Wesson. He’s been at the blackboard for 23 years.
MARTIN: Ironically, our students today are more connected than ever and yet, uh, the type of information that they’re accessing doesn’t really expose them to, um, the realities of what’s going on in the world.
That means he has his work cut out for him as he tries to explain the sacrifices of veterans. During a unit on the Revolutionary War, he ties in the Continental Army.
MARTIN: After a battle they would often just walk home. And we talked about how our soldiers can’t do that. They can’t just walk off the battlefield and come home because they don’t want to fight anymore. How they miss birthdays and holidays and things like that because they’re overseas.
When a fellow teacher left to serve in Afghanistan, Martin displayed pictures from the deployment on his classroom walls.
MARTIN: They could really see the connection between, wow, this, this really affects people that we know.
Senior Emma Anderson has veterans in her family—her dad, as well as both of her grandfathers. But she thinks school events like Friday’s make a difference for classmates who lack those kinds of relationships.
ANDERSON: You can tell that that hearing experiences from the veterans themselves definitely impacts, um, the students . . .
AUDIO: [Sound of administrator opening program]
Veterans walk in to the gym to a standing ovation. They represent an 80-year age span—from youngs Marines, to a not-so-young Navy man, Georger Mercier.
MERCIER: My age is 102.
Their service stories are wide-ranging, too.
MERCIER: I was in the ordinance branch of the Navy for five years during World War II.
CURRIE: The summer of eleventh grade, I went to boot camp . . .
JOHNSON: I have three overseas deployments, two to Iraq and one to Kuwait. I recently just got back September of this year . . .
FRAZIER: I served in the military twice, really. Served in the Army, which called back in for the Berlin Crisis . . .
BEASLEY: I’ve been in 14 years now with 3 deployments . . Iraq, Africa, and Kosova-Serbia . . .
AUDIO: [Sound of kindergarteners singing National Anthem]
Landon Beasley used to attend the Veterans Day program as a student. Now he’s an Army vet with 14 years of active service. He hopes the young people in the gym leave with new insights about what veterans have done for them.
BEASLEY: The biggest take away is the sacrifice that 1 percent of the United States population makes in order to provide for the, the other 99 percent. The freedoms that we have in America are definitely not seen throughout the world…
SPEAKER: As young Americans we honor you, the men and women who served this great nation. May God bless each of you, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Wesson, Mississippi.