Veterans share memories
Newnan High School’s students got the privilege on Friday to thank the very men and women Armed Forces Day today commemorates.
About 1,000 students strolled through the Jackson-Pless Armory and listened firsthand to accounts from veterans who served in America’s conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan.
The Student-Vet Connect programs are presented by NHS teachers Steve Quesinberry and Frank Henderson, who teach classes on World History, World War II and the Vietnam War. The program, which brings veterans inside the classrooms as well to the biannual gatherings, were started by Quesinberry in 1994, the same year that marked the 50th anniversary of D-Day. About 40-50 vets attended that first gathering.
On Friday, about 100 vets from World War II and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan set up their displays in the armory across from the school.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys, “ Henderson said, “but we lost a lot of our World War II vets, unfortunately. I used to have 35 a year, but now I’m down to 12 a year.”
Henderson began helping with the monumental task of coordinating the gatherings in 2001, and 19 years later the gatherings have grown to include about 100 servicemen who regularly engage with the eight history classes throughout the year or with the students who stream through the armory. The students pass through during the school day to examine the veterans’ photo albums, ask about their weaponry, medals and gear on display.
The students return to history class amped.
“They love it. They’re excited about it. They come back on Monday, and that’s all they want to talk about,” Henderson said.
The vets add another dimension and give special meaning to the class and what the students are learning, Henderson explained. Marleigh Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore, agreed.
“Instead of just listening to my teacher talk about it from a textbook, I find it interesting listening to them,” she said.
The veterans’ interactions with the students have a lasting impact that stays with the young men and women long after graduation. Some NHS alumni, now college students, return to help their former high school teachers and the veterans.
“A lot of people walk in and will see only tables and displays, but the students who have been in the class and listened to their stories respect them enough to give them their time and come back to help,” Henderson said about the young adults who guide visitors and assist the vets.
Thomas Cook, a 19-year-old sophomore at Georgia Southern University, was one of the returning volunteers.
“I am always going to help [Quesinberry] because I always thought he was great,” Cook said. “I appreciate how he gives back to the vets that have given so much to us.”
Cook said he felt humbled by how much the vets gave up and are still willing to share.
“Quesinberry said there are some that won’t talk to anyone in their own family and will only to talk to us in the classes,” he said.
Cook is grateful his teachers guided him in what to ask. He was surprised and inspired by some of the vets’ answers, such as whether the vets agreed with policy, reasons or what happened in the conflict or war in which they participated.
“They leaned both ways,” Cook said, but those who didn’t agree, “they stood behind it, all the way.”