As an educator with a veteran in the family, teaching kids about Veterans Day is very important to me. I want students to understand the true meaning of this holiday, which honors military veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Now more than ever, we need to recognize and honor the brave men and women who fought for our country.
Remembering Our Past to Protect the Future
My 92-year-old father is a World War II marine combat veteran, and because of that, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the brave veterans who fought in that war to preserve democracy over tyranny. It supports my belief that it's important to help students connect to our country's history in order to ensure that the U.S. Constitution continues to be preserved and defended.
To many of my students, World War II, which took place over 60 years ago, might as well be the Trojan War. I wanted my students to better understand that time period and recognize the courage and integrity soldiers had to possess in order to fight against oppression. I wanted my students to show their appreciation to these veterans for their service. Since it's estimated that 500 World War II veterans pass away each day—one veteran every three minutes—there might not be many more opportunities to do so.
Further reading: Community Service Projects for Kids
A Plan to Connect With Veterans
Several times a year, a nonprofit organization called the Honor Flight Network transports America's World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., free of charge so they can visit the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. The goal of an Honor Flight is to help every single veteran in America, willing and able, to get on a bus or an airplane, and visit their memorial. The Honor Flight Network also asks grateful citizens to come out and greet the veterans at airports and bus stations.
Greeting the veterans, I felt, would be a powerful way to engage my students. It'd help bring the history alive for them, and it would allow students to show their thanks in a meaningful way. I showed the students some Honor Flight videos, and many were immediately interested. We worked together to create colorful signs that read "Thank you for your service!" and "We Are Grateful for Your Sacrifice."
The major issue with my plan was that, in order to meet the veterans, my students had to assemble at Boston's Logan Airport at 6 a.m. on a Sunday! You know as well as I do: Getting teenagers out of bed at 5 a.m. is already a challenging task, and now I was adding the fact that it was the weekend into the mix. I wasn't completely confident anyone would show up until the time of the actual event.
A Memorable Morning
When the day arrived, I was thrilled at the number of students who showed up. There were even students who weren't in my class—they came with their friends, and they came with their entire families. Together, we filled the walkway of the Southwest Airline terminal, waiting for the veterans to arrive.
My students and their families waved their signs and cheered the veterans as they entered the terminal. Many of the World War II veterans were in wheelchairs, and some walked with canes. They wore hats representing their branch of the military, and their individual divisions and battalions. My students shook hands with the veterans and thanked them for their service.
Upon seeing the crowds after entering the terminal, one veteran in a wheelchair looked up at his wife and asked, "Who are these people? Why are they here?" "They're here for you," she told him. I looked at several of my students and saw tears streaming down their faces. I knew this experience had a profound impact on them.
Other Ways of Teaching Kids about Veterans Day
The Honor Flight Network has hubs in most states, so if you can gather your students, I would highly suggest taking them to honor veterans in person. However, there are other ways for your students to honor veterans, including:
- Raise money to help put wreaths on veterans' graves through Wreaths Across America.
- Attend Veterans Day activities in your area. Most cities and towns have Veterans Day ceremonies honoring veterans. Check your city's website and ask how you can help out. Meet your students there to show support for our nation's veterans.
- Write letters to veterans to show appreciation. Operation Gratitude distributes the letters to veterans.
Further reading: How Pen Pals Expanded the World for My Students
I'm looking forward to the next Honor Flight and introducing this wonderful experience to many of my freshmen students. This Veterans Day, help your students learn about, understand, and show appreciation for the sacrifices our brave veterans have made.