Before 89-year-old Walter Woodmansee even walked into Skaneateles Middle School one recent Friday, eighth grader Phoebe Glowacki could envision him as a young man in uniform, parachuting from a plane. She had read about him and she had helped direct and edit a mini-video about his experiences in WWII.
With a group of three other students, Glowacki had internalized Woodmansee's story of war and survival and then pondered how to create a reenactment that would give a snapshot of what happened to him as a prisoner of war while serving in the air force.
"Walter Woodmansee's story is interesting and unique. I felt I knew him before I met him," Glowacki said of the hours she spent editing the brief video.
When Woodmansee came to school to speak, Glowacki and others sat perfectly still, mesmerized by his story and his words. Woodmansee was one of seven WWII veterans who seemed to reach through the fog sometimes created by time to touch students of today.
The other veterans were Dick Faulkner, Marvin Langley, Dr. Michael Fallon, John Manilla, Joseph Owen and Ben Longo.
The video assignment was a new addition to a special program that brings seven WWII veterans face-to-face with eighth graders. Teacher Jim Ryan added the advance video assignment this year as a pilot case for one class of students and plans to extend it to all of his classes next year.
Since it started with a smaller group of students and veterans about seven years ago, the program has grown to include the entire eighth grade. This year, veterans made personal appearances in individual classrooms, telling their stories in intimate settings where students could ask questions.
The speakers offered glimpses of moments that aren't covered in the history books: the fear, the boredom between assignments, the bone-chilling discomfort of being outside in the rain and snow for days on end, the rationed food they ate while living in a fox hole.