BANGOR, Maine — Jim Jenkins will never forget his first day in Vietnam.
“My sergeant said, ‘There’s your tent. There’s your gun pit. Here’s your rifle,’” Jenkins recalled Thursday.
The Vietnam War veteran’s audience was a few of the Holbrook School eighth-graders who marked the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — as that class has done every year since 2002 — by interviewing Ambassadors of Patriotism volunteers at the Cole Land Transportation Museum.
At age 13 or thereabouts, the students from the school in Holden don’t have many memories of their own from that tragic day seven years ago, but they listen and learn about serving one’s country from these veterans of Vietnam, Korea, World War II and sometimes recent wars.
Ask 10 students what they remember most about “their” veteran, and you might get 10 different answers.
“It’s different for every child,” acknowledged teacher Trisha Smith, but the understanding they gain is the same.
“It’s the veteran’s commitment to serve,” she said. And from listening to the veterans’ experiences, the youngsters learn about “the concept of freedom.”
The students take notes during the interviews, write a thank-you letter afterward, and many enter the Cole Museum Veterans Day Contest, “What Freedom Means to Me After Interviewing a Veteran.”
Last year, the Holbrook students did a lot more than that. Jasmine Coulter, Kylie Danforth, Emily Ellis, Jamie Muth and Willie Paine formed the Kids of Liberty and spearheaded a Service Learning Project to raise funds to build a monument to all Holden veterans on Route 1A.
It was something people in the community had wanted, Smith said, “but it came from the kids. That’s why the community rallied around this. They were very touched — it was student-driven.”
Individuals, organizations, businesses and the Cole Museum donated to the project.
One of the stones by the monument reads, “Thank you Holbrook School Kids of Liberty. You acted! Inspired by Cole Museum Veteran Patriots.”
On Thursday, the Holbrook eighth-graders did all the things youngsters do on a school trip to the Bangor museum — the veteran interviews, the tour and the brief video on patriotism and the sacrifice of Charlie Flanagan, museum founder Galen Cole’s boyhood friend who was killed in World War II and was the model for the World War II Memorial on-site.
At the end of each school visit, Cole asks the youngsters if they will promise to interview a veteran from their own family.
The hands go up as the students think about who in their family has served in the military.