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The upcoming Veterans Day was on the minds of the eighth graders at McCord Junior High School in Sylvania last week.
Many are students of English teacher Debbie Mens, who each year as the observance approaches assigns her classes to write letters of appreciation that are mailed to 38 American Legion posts in northwest Ohio.
This year, however, she arranged something special: three members of Sylvania's Joseph W. Diehn American Legion Post 468 paid a visit to the school as speakers at a special Veterans Day assembly in the McCord gym.
Ms. Mens said she thought it was important the students understand that the purpose of Veterans Day, on Friday, is to honor military veterans and the sacrifices and contributions they made. All of the school's 200 eighth graders attended the assembly and applauded each speaker.
Two of the visitors, Wesley Falls and Robert Darr, served in the Korean War as Marines. The third, Richard Maneval, was on active duty in the Air Force in the late 1980s and early 1990s and retired last year from the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard with a total of 24 years of service.
"We have some special guests," Ms. Mens told the assembly in her introduction. "These gentlemen have given up their time to explain what it means to be a veteran."
Mr. Maneval spoke first and explained that he had been a chaplain's assistant in the 180th and spent a year in South Korea but did not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Mr. Darr said he enlisted in the Marines in 1950 and served four years. He was trained as a mechanic and assigned to an Air Force base in South Carolina, where he was made an MP, before shipping out for Korea, where he was in a few battles but was not hurt.
"I spent a year in Korea as a mechanic and truck driver, and no, I didn't shoot anybody. I didn't have the opportunity," he explained.
He said he did "bring some prisoners of war back from Panmunjon," and asked the students if they knew what Panmunjon was. Many of them answered yes.
Mr. Darr said that he came home, was discharged, got married, and had children -- "So here I am." He showed his National Defense Ribbon and the Good Conduct Medal he was awarded "for being a good boy."
Mr. Falls said he joined the Marines in 1948 while in high school and shipped out to Korea in 1950. He was a forward observer with a mortar company and was wounded when a tank he was on hit a mine. He told how a friend from Colorado was killed while he was with Mr. Falls. Back home, Mr. Falls had 10 children and 22 grandchildren.
Students Andrew Headman, Myles Johnson, Keely Pohl, and Carol Wygant presented each speaker with copies of the 101 letters sent to the American Legion posts.
Keely said she had to think for a while before she wrote her letter, then decided to express thanks for the veterans' service.
"At first I didn't know what to say," she explained afterward. "I don't have any family members I know of who were in the military."
Carol said that in her letter she too thanked veterans. "I took my time because I wanted it to mean something to them."
As the students filed out of the assembly, Mr. Falls said he thought the event had gone well.
"I think the schools more and more are teaching about servicemen," he said.