Veterans visit middle school, share war experiences

Students Jillian Van Leer, Jimmy Drancsak and Aimee LaFrance listen as veteran Joe Owens shares stories with them.

Students Jillian Van Leer, Jimmy Drancsak and Aimee LaFrance listen as veteran Joe Owens shares stories with them. Lori Ruhlman

— When Joe Owen, decorated veteran of WWII and the Korean War, looked out into the Skaneateles Middle School courtyard and asked eighth graders to raise their hands if they live in a great country, all hands were raised.

“What makes it great?” Owen asked the students. Answers like “freedom,” and “liberty” were given.

Owen didn’t disagree, but then said: “Here is my answer. People. People make it great. You young people will be the ones who will make this country grow. You have a great responsibility to make this country even better than the one you were born into.”

Owen, the author of “Colder Than Hell,” addressed the entire eighth grade class under a summerlike blue sky in the Skaneateles Middle School Courtyard while students sat on benches and on blankets around him. The students had met earlier in smaller groups with veterans Marvin Langley, John Manilla and Walter (Woody) Woodmansee.

During a sometimes emotional afternoon, the speakers offered glimpses of moments that aren’t covered in the history books. They talked about the war that changed their lives and helped create the world as young people know it today.

This is the tenth year that the middle school has invited veterans to come to school to help bring history to life. The event was organized by social studies teachers Jim Ryan and Julie Spinelli along with librarian Sharon O’Connell. Parent Geralyn Huba organized parents to help transport the veterans from place to place, and to feed them a delicious lunch in the library. Students from Colleen O’Hara’s Family and Consumer Science classes made the main dish.

Social Studies Teacher Jim Ryan has said he believes the program with the veterans is one of the most important programs in the middle school. “Over the years, I have had many parents email and call to tell us what a great activity this is. I really think this event gives the students an opportunity to appreciate what this generation was able to accomplish and what they sacrificed for our country.”

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