Old Soldiers go back to school

... vets will meet with Melrose High students to discuss their military experiences.

by Joe Sullivan

A portion of the Memorial in Washington D.C. that honors the veterans of the Korean War

Lisa Lord of Melrose High Schoolís Social Studies Department sent an email to a group of veterans
asking them to participate in a meeting with some students Itís purpose was to provide the studies
with a personal perspective of what each veteran lived through during his time in the military.

The meeting would be held at Memorial Hall on November 2nd which means this story was written
before the meeting. The meeting format will involve series of tables. Each table will accommodate
10 or 12 students and one veteran. This format will encourage a more relaxed atmosphere encouraging
students to participate and, for the veteran, a presentation that will be more conversational
rather than formal.

A meeting format that enables relaxed discussion.

Instead of a large single meeting devoted to a general description of many military actions this
will be a group of smaller meetings each devoted to more particular actions and conducted by
veterans who actually participated in them.

Lisaís hope is that these meetings will bring a realization that the intense military battles we
read about may happen in remote places thousands of miles away but they involve people who live in
somebodyís neighborhood that are just like the oneís in Melrose. Itís people like these that the
students will be talking to.

Iím not sure how the tables will be organized. One veteran per table regardless of  the military
action he was in seems like the most reasonable expectation. That means there could be more than
one table for vets who were in Viet Nam and significantly fewer for World War II and Korea vets.
The latter group vets will be in their eighties or even nineties meaning that there should be far
fewer of them who are still available.

Will there be any interest in a very old war?

The age consideration has me wondering if there will be many students who will be interested in
talking to veterans my age. The Korean War took place well over 60 years ago which makes it ancient
history to high schoolers. Who knows? That may be just the thing that will make our group
interesting. I can remember when I was growing up that on Memorial Day the newspapers would print
the pictures of veterans of the Civil War who were still living. Nobody in the world, I thought,
could be older than those guys. I get a chuckle out of the possibility that maybe thatís how the
students will feel about me.

The invitation email mentioned that pictures or other memorabilia would add interest to our
discussions with the students. Iíll have two things. One is a framed plaque, a recent gift from my
son Neal and his wife, that commemorates the 25th Infantry Divisionís action during the Korean War.
The other is a picture of me lugging a 600 radio transmitter to where I donít know. Like a lot of
equipment that was used in Korea, the transmitter was a hand-me-down from World War II.

A big help for me will be the plaque. It is very matter of fact. It lists all the
organizations that made up 25th Infantry Division, when they were in Korea and the campaigns in
which they participated. It has a map of Korea, too, which will allow the pointing out things like
the 38th parallel that divided the North and South before the war, and Panmunjom where the cease
fire was negotiated.

A not-so-pleasant consideration.

Sessions like these will have a down side for me. The military actions involved can carry a sense
of adventure for the young people who will be listening to their descriptions. When we were
participating in Operation Remember when the city took the Korean vets to Washington D.C. to see
the monuments honoring the wars and the people who fought in them. The monument honoring the Korean
conflict was the most recently built. I canít tell you the feeling that comes when you
see that statuary and know that it honors the war that you fought in.

During our visit we toured Arlington Cemetery, burial place for the honored military. We stopped to
honor Melroseís own, Walter Monegan. We gathered around his grave marker while one of the Middle
Schoolís girls who was hosting the trip, read a memorial tribute. Walter had received the
Congressional Medal of Honor, the nationís highest decoration for bravery in combat. While I stand
listening to the eulogy I notice the dates on the marker, the day he was born and the day he
was killed. I do the math, he was nineteen.

Walter Monegan's grave marker at the Arlington National Cemetary. He was only nineteen when
he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

After our cemetery visit we visited many of the other memorials. The Vietnam Memorial is well
known, an imposing black marblel wall that extends until it includes all 58,000 names of the
troopers who gave their lives in that military action. Of all the names listed more than half are
for troops who were age 22 or younger. Again, of all the troops listed, the age that occurs the
most? Nineteen.

I donít know if those ratios apply to the 33,000 troops who were killed in action in Korea. A lot
of draftees fought in that war,  the ones that I was with, including me, were in their early
twenties. We were young but we werenít in our teens.

Iím not sure what Iím going to tell the students who visit my table on November 2.  For sure Iím
going to find a way to get in facts about the 19-year olds. There is only one thing I can tell them
about veterans that Iím sure of.  In the war the veterans are the ones who donít get killed.

Joe Sullivan served with the 25th Infantry Division's 8th Field Artillery Battalion during the
Korean conflict.

November 4, 2016


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