05/31/10 — Heroes are whom students say citizens should think of today

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Heroes are whom students say citizens should think of today

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 31, 2010 1:46 PM

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Troy Herring

From left, Taylor Ellis, Brenna Thomas and Kenny Stempien, students at Greenwood Middle School, share their thoughts on Memorial Day.

For military children and their classmates, Memorial Day is not just a day to remember what protecting a nation requires.

They live with courage every day -- and they learn early what it means to fight for freedom and serve one's country.

Many of them have already faced one or both parents being deployed or being gone for long stretches of time. They have become privy to information youngsters their age should not necessarily know -- like war and death.

And students at Meadow Lane Elementary and Greenwood Middle schools know just exactly what they think about Memorial Day -- and why their community should honor its meaning.

"Memorial Day is a time where we all come together to celebrate and to remember our country's heroes, those who have fought for us in wars, and to give us new allies and help people," fourth-grader Jacob Howard, 10, said.

"Memorial Day is a time where we remember all the veterans and all the people that have paid a price or are paying a price for our country," added classmate Henry Bergstol, 10.

Patriotism, said Tyrin Register, 10, is a time to contemplate those who serve and preserve this country's freedoms.

"It's a time where you think of the past, people keeping you safe so you can step outside the door and feel safe because in other countries, people can't do that," he said.

To Bryce Jordan, 13, it's an opportunity to give respect back, thanking veterans and those currently serving their country.

"Memorial Day for us is just a day of remembering because a lot of people in my family have died in war -- grandfather, aunt, too many to remember," said Ariel Fonner, 13. "My dad was gone for a year when I was 5. It was just tough."

Greenwood student Kiara Prince said she picked up on the holiday's importance after a family visit to the Pentagon.

"My uncle showed us around and we saw these statues and signs of where people had been buried from fighting a war," she said. "It just showed me that it's a special holiday for all these people."

Many acquired their deep-seated sense of patriotism in their own homes.

"I learned it from past experiences -- my dad being deployed at least a few times," Jacob said.

"I learned because a lot of my relatives have served in the military or are serving in the military," said Henry. "I have learned a lot from the stories and just stuff they have told me"

"My mom is in the military, too, and I don't get to see her as often as the normal person," said 9-year-old Tenysia Rivera, a fourth-grader.

Katie Mooney, an eighth-grader at Greenwood, said her appreciation for Memorial Day occurred a few years ago, when her dad was deployed to Peru.

"They had a massive earthquake and we had no way to get through to him," she said. "It really hit me, when we studied Memorial Day and how people were fighting for our country -- it struck me in ways that I hadn't thought of before."

Classmate Kenny Stempien, 13, had a good example in his mom, who has been deployed "three or four or five times."

"Every time she would come back stronger and stronger," he said. "I don't know how she could be strong after being there, with people that don't have freedom and don't have the right to choose."

"I respect Memorial Day because my father served in Desert Storm and my deceased grandfather also served in the Vietnam War," said Michael Goode, a seventh-grader. "I have a lot of family that have been in the military and have lost their lives. I respect all the military people that have lost their lives."

Brenna Thomas, 14, said her family often talks about the loss that accompanies serving one's country.

Her dad, who is military, "says good-bye to the people who are being deployed," she said. "And we went to Arlington Cemetery. There's a lot of white tombstones that mean a lot to families. And (we) should respect them a lot for what they did."

Shea Straw is very proud of her dad, who flies an F-15E and fights for his country.

But the third-grader also knows that everyone is not as fortunate.

"Last summer, two people he used to fly with crashed in a plane and died," she said. "So Memorial Day is a time for us to remember them."

"I'm also really proud of my dad," said Jacob. "My dad was flying an F-15E. He was in the Gulf War."

Both of Cayleb Stewart's parents are in the military. The 8-year-old's mom is currently deployed, so he relies on his dad to "tell me stuff" about developing a patriotic spirit.

"A lot of it comes from the heart, some of it comes from books and other is just experience," said Kira Sutton, 10.

Jakob Volk, 9, said he has also learned much by reading books. He first became interested, though, because he has had family members in every branch of the military except for the Navy.

"I learned a lot by celebrating it with my dad," said the third-grader, who said he enjoys raising the flag -- half-staff on Memorial Day -- and putting flags on military graves of fallen soldiers.

"Memorial Day is a time to remember that freedom wasn't always free and people have lost loved ones because they were fighting for our country," said Dy'Man Moses, 10.

Kira said she feels that Memorial Day is one of the most important days of the year.

"Not only for those that fought for us but worked for us," she said. "Just to remember them and think of them -- our country wouldn't be as great of a place without their help."

Thirteen-year-old Andrew Price said one can be patriotic anywhere, any time, not just when there's a holiday. And not just within your own family.

"If you have friends that their parents are deployed, you can send them a letter," he said.

Earlier in the school year, Meadow Lane had a military walk, said Abby Wiser, 9, who said she enjoyed being able to go on the walking trail and carry flags in honor or memory of those who had served.

Another way to celebrate, she added, is done on a daily basis at the school.

"We say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and we have the Star-Spangled Banner," she said.

Katie calls the Pledge of Allegiance an easy way to be patriotic, if only people would take advantage of being able to the opportunity to freely say it aloud.

"When they do announcements at our school, sometimes kids in the classroom don't," she said. "I just think that's a simple way to be patriotic and respectful of our country."

The actual day will be commemorated in a variety of ways, the students said.

"My family actually celebrates with a barbecue and we might watch the History Channel," said Deanaletta Seif, 10, who suggested another action that can be taken every day of the year. "Pray about the souls of the departed, who have fought in the war, and for those who go out and fight in the war for our liberty."

"I'm going to my grandparents' house for Memorial Day," said Taylor Ellis, a sixth-grader at Greenwood. "We're going to have a big dinner because my dad just got back (from five months in Russia) not long ago."

"We're going to my grandparents' house because my great-grandparents were in a war, I don't know which one," said Tamia King, a seventh-grader. One of the annual events they have is a trek to a cemetery.

"Basically, like our whole family goes. It's kind of sad because of all those names and they mean a lot to people."

Kiara's plans include a visit to her grandfather.

"He fought in a war and he lost his leg," she explained. "So now we just go around and celebrate how he has fought for our country."

Katie said she often sees a lot of people on the military base, "just thanking one another for serving."

"I think that's just a simple respectful way of thanking people for what they have done for our nation," she said.

Tyree Hooks, 14, suggested an even more basic way to pay tribute to the holiday -- wear the nation's colors, red, white and blue.