Students hear vets in Living History Week
At the conclusion of each Living History presentation this week, veterans walk through a receiving line formed by hundreds of high school students who’ve spent the morning listening to them. They smile, shake hands and accept kind words from the teens.
“I teared up,” said Peggy Lutz of McMinnville, one of two female World War II vets involved with Living History Week. “I was really moved by the kids honoring us.”
Lutz served in the WAVES. She spent much of the war in the control tower at a training air base in Astoria.
A former teacher, Lutz is eager to talk to students. “This is just awesome,” she said.
She is among dozens of veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam who have been speaking this week.
From McMinnville, other parts of Oregon and elsewhere in the U.S., the vets were brought together through the Oregon-based program Honoring Our Veterans. In addition to sharing their stories with students, they are stressing the importance of education, patriotism and service.
Eighteen schools are sending students to the museum this week, including all Yamhill County high schools, Linfield College and Chemeketa Community College.
The students are meeting with vets in small groups and listening to keynote speakers. Frequently, a student or pair or trio of students will single out a veteran for some private conversation and a photo session, as well.
On Wednesday, when McMinnville High School was among the schools at Living History Week, multi-war veteran Mel Garten addressed the entire group. He is the most-decorated veteran living in the U.S., according to museum official Ken Buckles, who organized the event.
Garten, 92, joined the Army Airborne parachute troops during WWII and remained in the military through the Vietnam War, commanding the 31st Infantry and other units in Korea. He is the recipient of five Purple Hearts, four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars and numerous other honors.
He told students about the Nov. 11 holiday of his youth, when it was called Armistice Day in honor of the end of World War I.
“At 11 a.m., a whistle blew in New York and everything stopped for two minutes,” he said. “You did nothing, you said nothing, the cabs stopped, everything stopped.”
Garten favors an equally heartfelt celebration of the holiday now that it’s called Veterans Day. He noted that 575,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have died in battle, 1.6 million have been wounded and millionss more have served.
“Our nation really owes a special tribute, more than one day a year,” he said. “When you see a vet, remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice.”
Garten also discussed the importance of the G.I. Bill and ROTC in service members and rewarding them with good educations. He said he knows of a great doctor and lawyer who took part in ROTC to help pay for their schooling — his sons.
During the ending program, students also were treated to a live performance of one of the most popular songs in the U.S. in 1917: “Over There,” performed by Malinda Buckles. As veterans walked through the gauntlet, Marines vet Loren Corpuz of the Yakima Warrior Association played military anthems on his trumpet.