With Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Fleet Week all in spring, the season can be a fitting time of year for grade school children to learn about the sacrifices made by military men and women to keep our country free. This was the case for 42 Weehawken sixth graders last month when they visited the Joyce-Herbert VFW Post 226 Veterans Museum on West Ninth Street in Bayonne.
The Roosevelt School students viewed the artifacts that represent the efforts of military personnel from Hudson County and New Jersey in virtually every war. More importantly, they listened to presentations from Hudson County veterans who know firsthand about bravery and courage.
“We teach that veterans made sacrifices for our freedoms today,” said Post Commander Glen Flora. “This is a different type of learning. They get to meet veterans one on one and share their experiences.”
And learn the students did.
“I know a lot of people, like my grandparents, who were a part of World War II,” said Noelle White, 12, of Weehawken. “It’s just cool to see that side of everything. You don’t really know about everything until you’ve experienced it. It’s very interesting.”
Shane Epstein-Petrullo was very interested in the speakers, asking several questions. He had a personal reason why.
“War isn’t a peaceful thing.” – Joseph Fredericks
Joseph Fredericks, 90, of Weehawken, is one of those heroes. He told the students about his experiences in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, from 1943 to 1946 in Europe.
Fredericks stressed that war is hard, and he brings pictures of the devastation he witnessed to show fifth and sixth graders at schools he visits.
“War isn’t a peaceful thing,” he said. “We show all the destruction that goes on.”
Russell Hawn’s life is affected to this day by his service in Vietnam.
Hawn, 68, of Bayonne, an engineer building roads in the country’s central highlands from 1967 to 1968, awoke one day to a mortar attack on his base that left him with shrapnel injuries to his back, and both arms and legs. They required several surgeries.
Hawn, formerly of Jersey City, told the students that his return from war was very different from those of previous and future generations.
“A lot of the kids, they see the veterans coming home now and everyone’s, ‘Thank you for your service.’ When we came back, we didn’t get any of that.”
Chuck Gallagher of Hoboken discussed his work in the Navy diving unit immortalized in the movie, “Men of Honor.” Going from a dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania to action in the Korean War was quite a culture shock for him. But he persevered.
“You had to be physically fit, except you could be blind as a bat, because you couldn’t see anything under water anyway,” Gallagher said.
Weehawken has been affected by military loss like most other towns. The municipality’s most recent one was that of Staff Sgt. John Linde on Nov. 5, 2007 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions. Linde’s plaque was added to the township’s Fallen Soldiers Monument on Memorial Day.
Emphasis on history
The participating students were from the classes of teachers Donna Jimmerson and Kim Turner. Retired teacher Aurora Hoover also attended.
Jimmerson said the school sponsors a biannual trip to Washington, D.C., to see the war-related monuments in the nation’s capitol. Hoover said that when she was teacher she placed a great emphasis on teaching on military history, even having her students write letters to soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.