Vets to bring past alive for schoolchildren, othersWritten by Holly Tuey | | email@example.com
The students at St. Patrick of Heatherdowns will celebrate the heroes of our country on Nov. 15 as part of an annual event in honor of Veterans Day.
This will be the third year that local veterans come to the school for a show and tell event for the students. Vets from World War II and the Vietnam and Korean wars will be there to share pictures, uniforms and memorabilia as well as their experiences with the students and others who attend.
The day begins with a special Mass. The associate pastor says a blessing for the vets and then asks the students questions about the various wars.
“It’s amazing the things they don’t know,” said Don Clees, a World War II vet and organizer of the event. “One of the big reasons we do this is we feel the young people don’t know enough about history.”
After the Mass, students file into the school’s family center where tables are set up with displays from the veterans. As they visit each table, attendees can ask questions and learn about the different wars and the part the soldiers played in them.
“The purpose of this exhibit – and it has been proven over the last two years – is that our children are made aware of the sacrifices that our soldiers have gone through to keep this country free,” said Gisela Stiles, director of development at the school.
Three years ago, Clees was asked if he would be interested in talking to students about his experience in the war. That first year, he was the only veteran who spoke to the students. Each year the event has grown, and there will be 15 vets this year, including one who will dress in a World War I uniform.
A veteran from the National Guard has arranged for a large model F-16 fighter plane to be there this year. Clees said this plane is shipped around the country for different shows and he expects the students to really enjoy seeing it.
“It’s the best exposure you can get with the time allotted,” he said.
Clees enlisted in the Air Force in July 1943, just a month after graduating high school in Detroit. He went into cadet training to become a pilot, but ended up a gunner. At 89 years old, he said he is one of only three members of his crew alive today. As crew historian, Clees said he feels it is important to share that history with the students. School officials agree.
“I think it’s important that they realize that the soldiers are dying out,” Stiles said. “It’s very important that we have their testimony to share with the children. It makes it come alive. … They will realize that war is hell. It’s not fun and games, it’s not a video game.”
Stiles and Clees both said the children really get into it and ask a lot of questions. Clees said he will continue to come to the school for the students as long as possible, but when it is no longer possible, the event is likely to continue.
“I think Don has put in place younger men who will probably be willing to continue and take over,” said his wife Susanne.
The event runs from 10 a.m. until noon on Nov. 15. Members of the public are welcome to attend.