NRCS honors veterans: Local vets, parents and politicians recognize vets at school service
Veterans, politicians, teachers, parents and students packed North Rome Christian School's sanctuary Monday morning to honor veterans for their day of recognition.
Three local World War II service members; Army veteran Newman Benson, Marine veteran Howard Kerr and Air Force veteran Thomas Fairchild were recognized and gave speeches during the event, which school board member Nancy Schrader considered a special treat given the quickly diminishing number of living veterans from the second world war. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, only about one in 11 service members that served during World War II are alive today.
June 6, 1944, D-Day, is known by most to be the first major operation of the United States involvement in the War in Europe against Nazi Germany, but the Air Force played a role in the bombing of Berlin along side Britain months earlier. Thomas Fairchild was one of the men involved in these bombings. In April of 1944 he got news that he would be on a bomber headed to the capital of Germany for a mission.
Fairchild's plane was hit while over Germany and only he and a fellow service member were able to bail out of the plane before it plummeted to the ground, where he was later captured by German soldiers. He spent a year in captivity as a POW, he said. While in captivity, he learned of the systematic killing of Jews across Europe, an act which he said he "will never understand." Fairchild spoke of the modest joys in life that occurred during his imprisonment, such as finding warm blankets or being able to sleep inside of a tent some nights, all while horrified. While such an experience could understandably bring negative feelings, Fairchild remained mostly upbeat during the ceremony even joking with the crowd after being asked if he had any other experiences to share.
"I could talk for a week," he said, to the crowds laughter.
Marine veteran Howard Kerr was recognized by Schrader as a man who experienced the terror of the pacific theater of operations during World War II, spending some of his time in the Marshal Islands and later in Saipan.
Kerr was one of only two men in his unit to survive an attack which left him badly wounded by shrapnel from a mortar.
"This man is truly an American Hero," Schrader said of Kerr.
Newman Benson, a World War II Army veteran, added some much needed comic relief after Kerr's introduction. He told those in attendance the three things that he promised he would never do if he got out of the service during World War II.
"I would never own a gun for the rest of my life," Benson began.
"I would never go on a picnic, because I ate too much on the ground as it was," he continued.
"I would never go on a cruise," he said, explaining that he crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice during his service.
Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller and State Representative Tina Pickett gave short speeches explaining to students the importance of the actions of veterans and what it means to the country.
Miller shared a true story set in an Arkansas high school military history class room.
In an act that confused students, teacher Martha Cothren removed all desks from her classroom at the beginning of the day, and during first period asked students how they earned the right to sit in them. Throughout the day, Cothren was not given the answer she was looking for, even thought students attempted to cite their good grades or behavior as reasons they deserve the desks.
By the end of the day, students had resorted to sitting on the floor of the classroom, which is when she told the class ""Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily. Now I'm going to tell you."
A group of veterans, bearing their uniforms, entered the classroom and began placing the desks down as students watched.
"You don't have to earn those desks. These guys did it for you," Miller said Cothren told her class.
Tim Zyla can be reached at (570) 265-1634; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.