WASHINGTON TWP. – It’s tough to tell who benefits more when Long Valley veterans visit the Washington Township elementary schools, the students who learn from them or the veterans themselves.
About a dozen veterans from American Veterans Association of Washington Township Post 1776 held a double flag raising on Monday morning at the Flocktown-Kossmann school on Flocktown Road. It was one of several events the veterans have been involved in last week and this week leading up to Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11.
“We get a renewed sense of patriotism every time we see the kids assembling for the pledge of allegiance or patriotic songs,’’ said Army Veteran Tim Kelly. “It fills our heart with a great deal of joy.’’
Monday’s visit started with an outdoor assembly in front of Kossmann the K-2 school that included a poem by school Principal Michael Craver about Veterans Day, a flag raising conducted by veterans and students, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the national anthem and “My Country Tis of Thee, by a group of students led by music teacher Jeanne Fessenden.
That was followed by a similar assembly in front of Flocktown School for third, fourth and fifth graders. Afterwards, the veterans talked about their years of service and experiences in the military in front of several classes of fifth graders in the school’s music room. The discussion was conducted by the veterans group commander and Navy veteran Thomas McBride.
“The questions are similar every year but it shows a depth of understanding at their level,’’ Kelly said. “A depth of understanding of what the military offers the country. The protection we afford the country. The sacrifices that we made.
“We are delighted with their curiosity. This is the next generation of patriots,” he said. “Our mission is to help young people understand freedom is not free. The only way that we maintain being a free country is by having a strong military.’’
The American Veterans Association of Washington Township includes members from all branches of the United States Armed Forces. Traditionally they keep very busy this time of year, and 2022 has been no exception.
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, veterans placed or replaced flags on veteran’s graves at the Washington Township. Cemeteries in preparation for Wreaths Across America, the national event, which occurs in mid-December. On Thursday, Nov. 3, they were at Old Farmers Road school and on Friday, Nov. 4, they were at the Cucinella School for flag raisings and question and answer sessions with students.
On Wednesday Nov 9, they will meet at West Morris Central High School in the morning for a discussion with the student’s history club. The following day, the annual veterans brunch was scheduled at the Valley Restaurant in downtown Long Valley. On Friday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, the veterans were invited for an afternoon of dessert and coffee at Heath Village on Schooley’s Mountain Road.
“It’s just a blast being with these guys and seeing this interaction between real people and the kids,’’ Washington Township Mayor Matt Murello said. “That brings it home for the kids to see people in the community that are actually veterans.’’
Murello attended both flag raisings and is a big supporter of the veterans group. He said in his talks with other mayors over the years, he has discovered the veterans and the town have created a unique bond most towns don’t enjoy.
“There are not many towns that do this type of interaction with veterans that actually live in town and have kids in the school system and the schools,’’ Murello said. “It’s a really nice thing because it kind of brings what the veterans have sacrificed back to home. The kids see these veterans as their grandparents and friends of their grandfathers.’’
Flocktown-Kossmann Principal Craver said that aspects of what the veterans represent can be found in the curriculum. Because of the pandemic, the veterans limited live visits to the schools for a couple of years. This year’s visit was the closest they have gotten to getting the event back to pre-Covid levels.
“It’s amazingly important for the students to know what the veterans have done for our country,’’ Craver said. “They take for granted, we all do, just coming to school and enjoying our freedom.
“Maybe not all of them understand it, especially the little ones. It’s good to plant the seed. They know that there were some important people at their school today that mean a lot to us and the community and our country.’’
Most of the Veterans that attended were from the Vietnam Era and served during the 60s and 70’s. Only a few saw actual combat overseas. The oldest was Don Cable, a Navy man who served during the Korean War from 1951-1955. The students had numerous questions for the group during the discussion session, including what ships veterans served on and if they ever rode in a tank. Answering that latter question was Township Committeeman Ken Short, who served in the Army National Guard from 1971-1978. The answer, by the way, was that the tanks were very noisy and not air conditioned at that time.
Other questions included, what are the different branches of the military? What are those little squares (badges) on your uniform? Why did they use Morse Code? What is it like to be drafted? Does everyone go into combat? How many people are on an aircraft carrier? Is the USS Intrepid still in New York? Have you ever met a prisoner of war? The veterans did the best they could to supply the answers and many questions turned into conversations which helped the students and veterans connect.
“The questions are great,’’ Kelly said. “We are speaking from the heart and from our experience as being in the military. We represent most of the segments of the military. We speak from our experience. We are here (speaking) because we are volunteers.
“Nobody makes us come here. We do it out of love of country and to help the young people understand that the United States is the greatest country in the world because of young people like them who grow up and want to serve the country in the military or in some capacity.’’