Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Connections...This Is Not A Sad Story

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)

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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.


Abandoned in Pasadena said...

I really enjoyed your post this morning about Mario and, better yet that we are not including him in our memorial day celebrations, but honoring this fine young man instead, for his service to our country & putting his life on the line.

rick said...

I am so proud of our young soldiers serving our country in many places thoughout the world.Probley not since WWll have we had so many young (18-21)combat veterans.Some by the age of 20 or so have served two tours already.We don't here them complain about this war they serve, only the politicians and liberals who want somthing to complain about.I get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when I see these young men and women in uniform having just returned from Iraq or somehere like that.They dont run to the corner and complain or protest because they are our new generation of Hero's.Today as we give the WWll veterans the thanks they desereve on day these kids will get their thanks too.Who says this generation of computor and video games junkies cant get it done.They make me PROUD.

roger said...

nice, fc. thank you.

robin andrea said...

I've often thought that some kind of nationalized service after high school and before college would be a good thing for all kids. There is a maturing and awakening that happens when a person that age is asked to do a job that has importance and consequences. I am glad Mario is still here. Thanks for telling a bit of his story, and remembering those who are not still with us.

The MacBean Gene said...

It must be very rewarding to see the influence you have on the kids who are fortunate to have you enter their lives. We all have teachers we shall never forget and I'm sure to your students, you are among that group.

Mrs. S said...

I'm not American, so excuse me if I'm being stupid here, but it is appropriate to wish you a "Happy Memorial Day"? Seems to me it might be a bit... chipper for a day that is meant to remember those that have fallen in service to their country.

Regardless, I hope none of your students, past or present, end up as memorial day memories, and that you enjoy the rest of your day however it is that you Americans do that type of thing. (personally, we like beer and barbeque, but that sounds rather chipper, too, doesn't it?)

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Yes, there are enough dead to mourn. Good post, Cracker.

Terri said...

Great post. It's nice to remember those that are still with us, yet protecting our country. Here's a toast to all of them, for all they do.

Floridacracker said...

To all,
I hope your Memorial Day was good and that you remembered.
Take care.

Laura said...

I liked this story and I'd be proud of Mario too. It's a decision that we should respect, as they are making the ultimate sacrifice, and yet one that can be rewarding in some cases. Regardless of any person's opinion of the war today, I believe that Veterans past and present deserve our appreciation. We wouldn't be the country we are without them.
Great post! You must have some great memories of your former students. I know that my daughters have certain teachers who left a strong impact on them as they have moved through their school years. I am certain many of your students will remember you as time goes on as well!

John Cowart said...

Next time you see Mario, please tell him Thanks for me.

vicki said...

This is a wonderful and gentle post, FC. I'm reminded that we were in the midst of Vietnam at this same age and avoiding the draft at all costs. I remember watching that dreaded lottery tied to your birth date. But I agree with you about the depth and breadth of young people who chose the military. Thank you for this Memorial Day post.

I went back to catch up on some posts- I love the dogs routine. We have the same problem with the cats and chipmunks. But the cats KNOW they don't have to do anything that is expected of them.

Wolf Spiders! I got bit by one in Belize during the night while using the WC- it was huge! And my bodies reaction was frightening- and then a local woman went and got some special salve and viola! It settled into a festering but tolerable mess for the next 10 days.
Yech! We don't like big spiders, especially in the bathroom at night!

Likes2mtnbike said...

I hope your students see your blog, 'Cracker. I had a couple teachers in high school that I met later as an adult. While in school ('77) I played sports, that's all I wanted to do. Title XIV was brand new and there was a lot for a bright kid with little outside motivation to do, athletics-wise. Do you know that those teachers always remembered? They remembered the girl with the bright eyes and promise. They said nice things about me, things that made me wish I had know they felt that way back in school. Might have kicked me in the butt a little sooner (I was a late bloomer).
I hope they know. I hope you tell 'em. Teachers are close to the most important influences kids can have. You really make a difference.
When's Teacher's Day?