Veterans Visit Snider by Ashlee Witte
To celebrate United States veterans and honor their contributions to America, Snider social studies teachers Ms. Tiffany Hanley and Mr. Barry Menor organize an annual event where veterans volunteer to come to Snider and speak to students about their experiences in the service.
The veterans cover a variety of topics, including discussions of the draft or why they chose to sign on, tales of boot camp, descriptions of their jobs, stories about the places they visited and people they met and details on their homecomings.
“The ship is like a floating city,” Vietnam veteran Dan Schiebel said, listing the facilities available to the soldiers during their deployment, such as a laundromat, movie theater, hospital, dentist, cobbler, barber and post office.
Schiebel brought pictures of the ship under attack, but explained that during his five years on that vessel, the most severe damage was caused by a storm and some friendly fire. He recounted the accident that ended with a U.S. aircraft bombing one of its own ships and the story of his ship being caught in a dangerous tempest with waves up to five feet tall threatening to capsize them.
Other veterans relayed important life lessons and new ways of thinking they adopted from their time spent in the military.
Navy veteran Tim Rothgeb said, “If I don’t do my job then it affects someone else,” stressing the significance of the soldiers depending on one another, especially in life or death situations.
It was because of this interdependency that he underwent a “culture shock” upon his return to civilian life. According to Rothgeb, the population has a general lack of awareness and an unwillingness to care for one another, born of perceived differences in status that are simply not allowed to exist in the military. Rothgeb said any barriers to equality, such as class and race, are overshadowed by the uniform treatment of the soldiers.
Ms. Hanley believes students learn valuable lessons from meeting the veterans.
She said, “I definitely think it shows the value of patriotism and service to our country, honoring the men and women who have fallen for our freedoms.”
The interaction is mutually beneficial to both students and veterans, according to Ms. Hanley, and sometimes offers closure and healing to veterans in unexpected ways. For instance, her students made posters for the veterans one year and the gesture moved veteran Don Smith so much that he now takes his poster to all his Vietnam reunions.
Ms. Hanley recounted a memory of another veteran who felt he had nothing worthwhile to say and sat in his car for about an hour before returning to the school, spending the rest of the day there and happily engaging with students.
Tying the event to her lessons is easy for Ms. Hanley because it satisfies the “positive social interaction” and creation of a “sense of community and service” components of the curriculum. She supplements the experience with writing assignments to help students connect the first-hand accounts they heard to history.
Often, the veterans themselves will broach the politics and social issues surrounding war. Schiebel interpreted the process of the Vietnam War becoming a moral war when soldiers were ordered not to return fire. Later he described the way protestors received them upon their homecoming, spitting and insulting returning soldiers.
As partial as she is to World War II veterans, Ms. Hanley laments that the number who are willing and able to make it to the event has dwindled in recent years. However, she finds the younger veterans to be a valuable addition as students seem to gravitate to them because the smaller gap in age makes them easier to relate to.
Overall, the event has been a success since it was started in 2010, but there have been a few complications in the past. Weather conditions and voice projection difficulties, especially for older veterans, have been obstacles. Sometimes getting veterans to agree to come can be difficult, but the Honor Flight program and Texas Roadhouse have been especially helpful, with the latter providing free food to the veterans this year.
“That tends to attract more veterans here because they don’t want to miss out on a free meal,” Ms. Hanley said.
Texas Roadhouse was not the only establishment to pitch in. A donation box for Clothes for Joes was also set up so students could have the chance to donate essentials to homeless veterans.
“It also is important to honor the local organizations so that students have a place to serve,” Ms. Hanley said, noting that programs such as Clothes for Joes give students a chance to get involved in their communities in a positive way.
Senior Andrew Schiebel said, “The stories made me think of the veterans in a different light.”