ROCKLAND, Maine — Kathryn Hollicker’s dad lugged a huge radio, his backpack and a gun with him as he stood on front lines communicating with medical support to help injured soldiers during World War II, including at the Battle of the Bulge.
Hollicker, who is the principal of Rockland District Middle School, said she never sat her dad down to talk to him about his time in the Army before his death in 1990. She regrets that and is now helping her students and others thank those who served their country and learn from their experiences.
On Wednesday morning, all the students in the middle school gathered with community members and dozens of veterans to talk about Veterans Day, America’s wars and to hear stories of military service. The assembly was part of “Bring a Veteran to School Day” hosted by the TV channel History. Children at the school interviewed community veterans and will file the recorded interviews with the Library of Congress.
“This was for our kids. They are asking questions now. They are taking advantage,” Hollicker said.
“It represents why they even live here in the first place. This is their country, and it wouldn’t be here without these veterans. It’s critical the children thank them,” Hollicker said Wednesday after the assembly. “I think they connected with [the veterans] today.”
The four student interviewers each introduced the veteran they featured: Michael Steinbuchel, who served in Iraq; Steve Waterman, who served in Vietnam; Charlie Johnson, who served in Korea and Frank Reynolds, who served during WWII, all shared their stories in front of the crowd.
Steinbuchel told the children that the people who fought for America include their parents, aunts, uncles and other relatives.
“They thought it was important to serve their country,” he said Wednesday. “It is incumbent on you to find out why; why they served. Their stories need to be captured.”
Korean War veteran Johnson told the students that he is one of seven children and that he joined the Marine Corps in 1947 because he wanted a college education, but his parents could not afford it. He saw the front lines of combat and was injured twice. After he was discharged in 1952, he went on to earn his college diploma.
“I’m proud of every one of you young people. Work hard, get an education. It’s the most important thing you will ever do,” Johnson told the group.
The students also heard from someone they see every day. Navy veteran Charles Gallagher works as the seventh grade math teacher at the middle school. He encouraged students to shake a veteran’s hand on Veterans Day and thank that person for his or her service.
Hollicker said the students were “glued in” to what the veterans were saying. When she would look up from her place at the front of the room, she said she saw the children connect with the stories.
“It gave me really good insight to what it was like to serve and what sacrifices people make so we can have freedom in this country,” said 14-year-old Payton Billingsley. “It makes you think about what you take for granted.”
After the assembly, students watched as doves were released on their athletic fields, symbolizing freedom and acting as a salute to all service members, according to Hollicker.
“I learned there are a lot of veterans I didn’t know were in this area,” said eighth-grader Ryan Davis after the doves flew off.
Noah Stevens, another eighth-grader at the school, said the event was something he thinks he will remember forever.
“Hearing the veterans’ stories during the assembly was very nice,” he said.
WWII veteran John Rapose of Owls Head waited around after the ceremony. Rapose said he still has “a Japanese bullet in my leg” and thought it was important that students honored veterans.
“I think they should have these more often so kids know what they are living in,” he said Wednesday. “If I want to see my friends, I have to go to the cemetery.”