BANGOR, Maine — At age 13 or so, students from Holbrook School in Holden don’t have many memories of their own from that tragic day seven years ago, but the eighth-graders listen and learn every Sept. 11 from veterans of Vietnam, Korea, World War II and sometimes recent wars.
They interview those veterans on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington through the Ambassadors of Patriotism program at Cole Land Transportation Museum.
Just a month after the attacks, then-principal Ralph Russell asked the Bangor museum to save a slot every year on that date for the Holbrook eighth grade to interview veterans and tour the museum.
The students take notes during the interview, write a thank-you letter afterward, and many enter the Cole Museum Veterans Day Contest, “What Freedom Means to Me After Interviewing a Veteran.”
But last year, the students did a lot more than that. Several formed the Kids of Liberty and put on a community fund-raising drive to build a monument to all Holden veterans on Route 1A.
It was something people in the community had wanted, said language arts teacher Trisha Smith, “but it came from the kids. That’s why the community rallied around this. They were very touched — it was student-driven.”
The five who spearheaded the Service Learning Project were Jasmine Coulter, Kylie Danforth, Emily Ellis, Jamie Muth and Willie Paine, but many more helped with the effort, from planning the spaghetti supper to preparing the memorial’s location next to the gazebo on Route 1A.
Now a handsome monument in gray granite is “Dedicated to all Holden veterans, past, present, future.” It is flanked by panels of black granite adorned with seals of the branches of the U.S. military — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine.
The edges of the walkway are lined with paving stones purchased to honor a member of the military, from Revolutionary War veteran Zebulon Rowe to Army Airborne Sgt. Nicholas Robertson, who was killed in Afghanistan.
Pavers are still available for $150.
Ask 10 students what they remember most about the veteran they interviewed last Thursday at the Cole Museum, and you might get 10 different answers.
“It’s different for every child,” Smith acknowledged, but the lesson may be 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.”
Smith added, “One of the most powerful things to see is Galen Cole standing up in front of them talking about his experiences in the war — and the importance of giving back.”
On Thursday, the Holbrook eighth-graders did all the things that youngsters do on a school trip to the museum — the veteran interviews, the tour of the museum and the brief video on patriotism and the sacrifice of museum founder Cole’s boyhood friend who was killed in World War II, Charlie Flanagan, 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.
And sometimes, as on this day, one of the children will be sitting across from just such a person in his family.
On Sept. 11, 2008, Holbrook eighth-grader Bradley Tasker asked his questions of his grandfather, Vietnam veteran Chuck Knowlen.
Those interested in purchasing an inscribed paving stone for the Holden Veterans Memorial may contact Bonnie Clark at 843-5382, or Jim Muth at 843-5449.