A few years ago, back in '98, I helped write a Learn and Serve grant. These grants fund projects that educate kids, but the project must also have a community service requirement for the participants...hence the name, Learn and Serve.
Our project was all about rivers and watersheds, we called it, "Interdisciplinary Watershed Education, or "IWE" for short. The kids monitored local streams for water quality, did some basic biological inventories, and as our service project, we cleaned over 500 pounds of trash from the Waccasassa River.
The IWE project is not the main point of this post, the kid in the picture, wrestling an old tire from the river's mud is the point. His name is Mario, and I share that with you only because the photo is 8 years old and he's a grown up now. (I observe my own very strict privacy rule regarding my students)
Mario was an above average student when he wanted to be, but mostly he was an easy going nice kid. You could not help but like him and as you can see in the picture, he really got into the river clean up. I think he was still an underclassman, maybe a Junior when this pic was made, but he did graduate and joined the army soon after. I lost track of him as I do for many of my kids after they break free.
After a while, a younger cousin of his showed me a photo of him. He was dressed in desert cammies, chest puffed, and holding a SAW. The cousin said he was based in Fort Lewis, Washington which told me he was probably an army Ranger. She said he was presently in Afghanistan.
Last year, at a high school basketball game, I turned around and there he was, taller, beefier. We shook hands and talked briefly. There was a seriousness about him that was very different from the kid I had known. It wasn't a bad thing, just noticeable. He was heading back to Afghanistan and was making the most of his visit home. I shook his hand and told him to be careful.
That was the last contact I've had with him, but as far as I know he's doing well.
I just wanted to share his tale this memorial day, because he's typical of the kids I see volunteering for the armed forces. Every year I watch bright, motivated kids make that decision to sign up...and folks, it's not the high school junkies and losers with no other options. The dropouts have deselected themselves by their life choices and can't make the entry standards.
Most of my kids who join could easily have gone on to college, but chose the military out of patriotism or an urge to do something besides more school, or simply for adventure. Their reasons are as varied as they are.
I know Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have died in service, and I don't want to dilute the purpose of this day. The truth is, any one of these kids could be next year's memorial day memory.
I try not to think about that.