One of the benefits of being a teacher is that you get to take part in a lot of trips, ceremonies, and presentations you would otherwise not be privileged to. Some lucky teachers get to accompany students on trips to other states, Washington D.C., or even other countries. I, on a smaller but more significant level, had the pleasure of one such trip today. The 3rd-8th Grade classes at the school where I teach went to Memorial Hall in Racine and got to take part in the memorial service there.
Sitting there next to my students, I was a flood of different emotions. Perhaps most of all was the feeling of gratitude towards the veterans sitting across the aisle from me. One would have to be a heartless wretch not to feel immense thanksgiving for the men and women who served and continue to serve our country. It was a great experience for the kids, and myself, to be able to interact and worship with veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Students were able to experience history in an entirely different way than in the classroom: they were able to talk to them men who made that history. There is no better way to learn than to talk to people who actually lived through it.
The second emotion I believe I was feeling was one of frustration. Not towards the veterans, of course, but towards some of my students. A few of the boys were more mesmerized by the guns the veterans were carrying and firing during taps than the actual veterans themselves. I do not entirely fault them; they are still quite young and immature and I am sure in time they will fully appreciate the people more than the weapon. Their small lack of priorities paled in comparison to that of some of the other schools that were in attendance. I do not mean to elevate my school above others or to claim that my kids are better than anyone else's, but I found it very disrespectful and shocking that some school allowed kids to bring cell phones and ipods into the service. We continually had to deal with giggling, the faint sound of music from ear buds, and the ringing of cell phones. I was absolutely appalled! It is a shame that teachers and administrators would even allow those things into a memorial service; I cannot blame the kids as much as I blame the teachers. They were the reason for the noise, which was distracting from the real reason we were there: to honor and thank all the people who have risked, and in some circumstances given, their lives for our country. It is because of their sacrifice that many of these kids could even own a phone or ipod.
The third emotion I felt was one of pride. Disregarding all the extracurricular activities that were going on around me, I found myself holding back tears of pride and thanks for everyone I know who has served or is serving in the military. It made me think of my grandfather, deceased 11 years, who served our country in World War II; my good friend Dan who is stationed in California; my parents' neighbor Tom who served valiantly in Vietnam; and my cousins Josh and Matt who served in the military when I was younger.
Living veterans will say that the men and women who died are the real heroes and that they are just ordinary people. It is this selfless attitude that does indeed make them heroes, though. No soldier wakes up in the morning and says, "Today I will be a hero." They are always heroes. Heroes to their families, heroes to their country, heroes to my students, and heroes to me.