Vet Connect program brings together veterans, students
by Wes Mayer
Close to 80 veterans attended the Newnan High School Vet Connection program Friday at the nearby Jackson-Pless National Guard Armory, and hundreds of high school students got the chance to meet the veterans and learn some history from first-hand stories.
This is the first Vet Connect to include war-time vehicles, said Steve Quesinberry, a history teacher at Newnan High School who has been putting on the program with fellow teacher Frank Henderson since 1995. The program started off small, but it has obviously grown, he said. Veterans ranged from serving in WWII to the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Cold War and Operation Desert Storm. There were also servicemen with the National Guard and others who collected historic items from war at the Vet Connect.
The veterans spoke to students about their memories serving in the armed force, and those who served in combat were able to give their personal accounts of the battles many of the high school students are studying.
WWII Navy veteran Grover McMichael was on board the USS Emmons during D-Day, he said, and the ship was deployed to fire on the enemy positions on the shore. The ship was later sunk, and more than 60 Americans lost their lives, but fortunately he was not on board. McMichael, who is now 91, recently visited France and saw the beaches of D-Day, including the American cemetery at Normandy. He brought many items and articles from his service in the Navy to be displayed at the Vet Connect.
Another veteran, Jimmy Grubbs, was a communication analyst during the Cold War, and he had some books and photos on the secrets of the war on display. One of the secret events Grubbs had on display involved the capture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea in which the entire crew was imprisoned. Another was about an American C-130, meant to intercept radio signals, which was shot down over Armenia. There were 17 crewmen on board he said, but only six bodies were ever returned to us – the flight crew. The other 11 people on the plane were secret operatives, and they were all in a portion of the plane with the communication equipment that was ignited by thermite when the plane went down, he said.
Outside the armory with the vehicles, a few men like Paul Longgrear and Randy Martin brought their historic army jeeps for the students to view and climb inside. Longgrear, a retired Army colonel, told students that veterans were what America was built on – if not for the veterans, there would not be a USA. He also told students about what it is like being a career soldier and how he met his wife, who allowed him to be a career soldier.
Other vehicles included restored jeeps and vehicles, Humvees and the “Proud American” gun truck that was rebuilt numerous times. Its owner, Larry Board, who served in Korea, Alaska and Germany, said the gun truck was not a standard truck and was meant to serve as convoy protection. It was only rebuilt four years ago, Board said, because the truck only lasted 22 days in Vietnam before it was destroyed by the enemy.
Knox Herndon, who served as a chaplain in the Army, and Bo Hill, who served 22 years in the Army Airborn, also showed off some items, including a restored 1941 BMW motorcycle acquired by Herndon during his years of collecting. Herndon has been collecting historic items for 40 years and now operates the American Values Traveling Museum in Fayetteville, which he would like to start bringing to schools and churches as an “on-site” field trip. He said anyone interested could email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hill said he is looking forward to a real airborne jumps into Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the historic jumps made by soldiers in WWII. The jumps will be done through a company in Oklahoma, but will be accomplished with restored aircraft and equipment which WWII soldiers actually used – the aircraft being used even flew during the war, he said. Some of the veterans are going to try to make it out to the jumps, too, he said, adding that it will unfortunately be the last big anniversary for most of the veterans.