A few days ago I had the privilege of speaking with a class of 5th graders at Mukilteo Elementary School. These 10-year-olds were some of the sharpest young people I have ever met.. They had been studying the U.S. Constitution and their teachers wanted them to meet some actual people who had put their lives on the line to protect the liberties that are so eloquently enumerated in that magnificent document. Past Commanders Fred Apgar and Jim Traner also spoke that day, at different times and—I presume—to different classes.
“If we didn’t have veterans, we wouldn’t have freedom.”
The next day their teachers seny us a few excerpts from the comments the students had written down. Clearly, they were listening. More importantly their words pointed to the content of our remarks, not to us as speakers. They recognized that service, particularly military service, is about real people and—in most cases—people that live right here among us.
“I learned that even 17- and 18-year-olds can make big sacrifices.”
The students identified with the idea that when we served we weren’t much older than them. They wanted to know how we felt at the time and what motivated us to become part of the military. We told the truth—that very few of us joined because we wanted to be patriots. But we also told how every one of us came to realize the importance of what we were doing and that we were fighting, not so much for the vague ideals of freedom and democracy, but for family and loved ones…and for future generations. In other words, for them.
“It’s really special to know someone who fought for our country.”
I’m glad they wrote those words on paper rather than saying them to me in person, because I’m not sure I could have retained my composure. What is important for all of us to know is that this is how most people feel about us. And what I want you to know is how special it is to be able to touch these young people’s hearts.