The generation that defeated fascism with their grit and courage is being immortalized by members of the digital generation.
Last week at Meneley Elementary School, the era of the iPod met the era of the phonograph as students of Krystal Koontz’s third-grade class interviewed four World War II veterans for a class project called “The Spirit of ’45.”
“There are not many living World War II veterans, and we would like to celebrate and honor those who are still living,” Koontz explained. “The project was to interview veterans focusing on the character traits such as bravery, honor, loyalty, friendship, and courage. These are all themes in many books we read in class and in character traits in our novels. We wanted to connect the Spirit of ’45 to learning. We also wanted the students to feel connected to our community and give back to our veterans by showing appreciation and honor for their sacrifices.”
The project began with a hero’s welcome. On April 23, students sang patriotic songs for retired Marine Capt. Jim Ellis, who was a fighter pilot in the war effort.
“He brought his medals, pictures, and silk maps that he used, and many stories of honor, dedication, and sacrifice,” Koontz said. “After the interview the students all shook his hand and gave hugs. I overheard him tell his daughter, ‘This has been the best day of my life.’ That comment was the point — to allow our students the opportunity to show honor and respect to these veterans while we still can.”
On April 25, the class welcomed Pfc. Jim Schramm, Pfc. John Campbell, and Sgt. Rico Petretti, all who served in the Army during the war.
“We started by giving the gentlemen a parade,” said Koontz. “The students stood in a line wearing their red, white, and blue tie-dyed shirts, holding homemade signs reading, ‘Thank you for our freedom,’ waving flags, and clapping as these heroes walked past them.”
Koontz described it as a moment the staff and students will never forget.
“I think all of the adults were crying,” she said.
The third-graders then teamed up with fifth-graders for the interviews, splitting into groups. The fledging journalists took notes as the veterans relayed stories of the many battles across the globe that eventually defeated the Axis Powers.
The students were later tasked with converting their notes into narrative accounts of the war.
After the interviews, third-graders held a cupcake social. Each veteran sat down at a table with students.
“I saw a lot of hugs, autograph signing, and handshaking,” said Koontz.
Third-grader Cheyenne McCormick summed up the emotional impact of the project:
“I got to meet real heroes and tell them thank you.”