On Monday, two dozen United States veterans representing several branches of the military headed into a classroom at Joel Barlow High School. They had been invited to share their experiences with a generation far removed from theirs, teenagers whose views of war are strongly influenced by entertainment media, not first-person accounts.
The veterans were welcomed at a breakfast, and then guided into a series of small group sessions with the students. Midday they were honored together at a formal ceremony, and were served lunch as the finale to the event.
The annual Veterans Day commemoration at Joel Barlow is organized by faculty member Jordan Pinsky. Asked about the importance of the event, he said, “We offer our gratitude for past service and our admiration for the veterans’ continued willingness to serve by coming in today to share their stories with students and faculty and to inspire us to realize even better visions of ourselves and our world.”
At one of the small sessions, Purple Heart recipient Richard Jaccarino shared, in vivid detail, his experiences in one of the four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army which fought in the Battle of Okinawa. He was 18 years old; the 82-day-long battle resulted in the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Mr. Jaccarino calmly described kamikaze attacks and the grenade that almost killed him (he still has shrapnel in his leg), but recounted lighthearted moments as well — about the fellow who had latrine duty.
Later, at the formal ceremony, Mr. Pinsky addressed the veterans, faculty and students. “Today is a national holiday that encourages us to reflect, to think about and honor the service of our veterans. I am grateful for this holiday. It reminds me that America is not a fait accompli. Our ideals and our vision of the United States must be realized through action. History clearly demonstrates that the survival and flourishing of civilization is never guaranteed. Success demands wisdom and action.
“Our presence here today, our shared efforts and activities represent our collective statement about what we believe. Our actions claim we should value service and sacrifice to something larger than oneself. Our actions, the actions of every person in the room today, serve to help define our community, our country, and our world.”