Saturday, November 9, 2002

School honors students' families

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - A gymnasium full of second-, third- and fourth-graders at Immaculate Heart of Mary School here may have gotten the best American history lesson of their lives Friday afternoon.

[photo] Emily Whalen, 8, attaches a ribbon to the uniform of her father, Lt. Col. Charles Whalen.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
Sitting with their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles at the school's Veterans Day celebration, to which pupils were told to invite their family members who served in the military, they learned that American history is not always found in a textbook or in the flickering images of black-and-white film.

When they have family members who served in the military, history is at their Thanksgiving dinner tables,takes them to ball games, makes a fuss over their birthdays, hugs them and tells them they are the best.

It could be seen Friday afternoon in the smile of Conner Davern, a fourth-grader, when a visitor asked him if he was proud of his grandfather, Jerry Davern, at a reception for the veterans following the ceremony.

Mr. Davern, of Orchard Park, N.Y., is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on the USS Shangri La during the Korean War.

"You bet I am," Conner said, throwing his arms around his grandfather, who held the boy's head in his huge hand.

[photo] Jerome Davern, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, stands with his grandson, Connor Davern, during the ceremony.
| ZOOM |
"It really makes me feel good," said Mr. Davern, who drove with his wife from his suburban Buffalo home.

At Friday's ceremony, each veteran was introduced and walked to the center of the gym, where his or her daughter, son, niece or nephew, grandchild or great-grandchild stuck a red-white-and-blue ribbon on his or her chest.

Robert Bork, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, had his grandson Christian, a third-grader, there to walk out on the gym floor with him.

"This really means a lot to me," Mr. Bork said. "I hope Christian remembers it some day."

Teacher Terrene Dillon has organized the Veterans Day ceremony at the Burlington school for three years. It's a way of instilling patriotism in the children and teaching them respect for what their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents have done for their country while in uniform, she says.

On Friday, 43 veterans from all branches of the service were the school's guests of honor. They ranged from young men and women who served in the Persian Gulf War to 16 World War II veterans - men now in their late 70s and early 80s.

Students also met a veteran of a war the country is still fighting.

Lt. Col. Charles Whalen of Boone County, a U.S. Army surgeon, recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was the keynote speaker for the hour-long ceremony.

"You just saw 43 heroes up here,'' said Lt. Col. Whalen, who also served in the Persian Gulf War. "Not something in a book. Not something on TV. These men and women are the real thing.

"These are people who went far away from home, where they were a lot of times lonely and sad and always in danger," Lt. Col. Whalen told the children. "And they did it for you. So you can be free."


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