It was a cloudy, wet day outside as a group of students piled into two vans parked in back of Colville High School. Earlier last Friday, the school’s gymnasium was the site of the annual Veterans Day Assembly, where students, staff, and community members gathered to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. Flowers, American flags, patriotic songs and applauding marked the occasion.
But as the students in the vans made their way toward their respective destinations, the mood was rather reflective, punctuated by bursts of energetic and brisk banter that seems to be the hallmark of the teenager. They were no their way to pay their respects to veterans at local rest homes who could not attend that morning’s assembly. Wrestling coach, special education and English teacher Randy Cloak drove one vehicle, headed to Pinewood Nursing Terrace. The other, driven by art teacher Tracey Delyea, made stops at Parkview Assisted Living and Buena Vista Nursing Home. In their laps, students held American flags, Veterans Day posters, and packets containing commemorative poems and handwritten ‘thank you” letters from fellow students. In the back of each van, there were red, white and blue floral arrangements.
“This is our behind-the-scenes thing,” says Delyea, as she turns onto Silke Road. “We do this every year during sixth period. One van takes the kids who have to be back in time to catch the bus and this one takes the kids who have other transportation home.”
The trip is not mandatory, so some students stay behind at the high school to do home work and study. The particular group that sat behind Delyea is comprised of Luke Walker, Cassidy Lindback, Lacy Ekins and Brooke Burr, all juniors. Their first stop is Parkview Assisted Living.
Unfortunately, there were no veterans to greet them there, so they left their offerings at the reception desk. The teenagers smile and greet a few elders sitting near the front door.
“The (CHS) photo team should just come up here one day and visit,” says Burr. “We could paint the ladies’ fingernails and just talk with them.”
Delyea mentions that since not all veterans are physically able to come to the annual tribute at CHS and she and her students have neither the time and resources to go door-to-door, this is the next best thing. As she and the students pulled out of the Parkview parking lot, she motioned to a window on the second floor that had an American and Army flag.
“I bet you that one is a veteran,” says Delyea.
On the way to Buena Vista the students talk about that day’s assembly. Which veteran was funny, which one was quiet, which one wanted a hug, and how impressed they all were when one veteran in his upper 90s insisted on forgoing his walker to stand up and walk on his own to receive his flower and recognition when his name was called.
Honoring them everyday
At Buena Vista, the small group goes from room to room with a nurse, who checks a short list of several names. Some of the veterans are asleep; others are not ell enough to take visitors.
Upon receiving his tokens of appreciation, Army veteran Bill Worsfold smiled gruffly and said, “Well isn’t that something. Thanks, kids.”
Navy veteran Ray Kuh, who was sitting in bed when the teens came in to his room, seemed pleased to have visitors. He served in the navy for four years, mostly in the South Pacific and Asia. A naval calendar hung on his wall.
“This is great,” he said after he opened the packet and his eyes scanned the letters and poems. “Thank you so much.”
“Thank you for your service,” replied Walker.
Kuh would have liked to visit longer, but it was time for the students to leave. As Delyea piloted the van back towards CHS, the general consensus of the group was that more people should be finding ways to express their gratitude.
“It’s not just a one day thing, we should be honoring them every day,” said Lindback.
“Even if you don’t support the war, you should support vets, because they are still fighting for you,” added Burr.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 22.2 million living U.S. veterans. The median age of a male veteran is 61, while the median age of a female veteran is 47. Approximately 850 American World War II veterans die every day. The median age for a World War II veteran in February 2009 was 86 years.
“It was really interesting and moving to see the kids interact with these veterans,” said Cloak. “Many of them had never been in a nursing home before. To see them have these face-to-face interactions that made them think is a good thing. We have a lot to learn from our elders.”