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Veterans share their secrets of service with students

Plenty of questions from curious children

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Second- and fifth-graders from the Locust Valley School District had a chance to spend some quality time with veterans from the Robert H. Spittel American Legion Post 1285 on Tuesday in honor of Veterans Day. The veterans, all from Bayville, were asked a variety of questions, which they appeared to be happy to answer. Some of the inquiries were simple, like, “Why do you wear that hat?” Others were taken from a list of questions the students had prepared as part of the We Have Character program, which is in its second year at the district.

The program brings the two classes together — Kelly Price’s fifth-graders, from Bayville Intermediate School, and Dani Schatz’s second- graders, from Bayville Elementary. They meet at least two times a month, choose a character trait and investigate it. Gratitude was the first choice, which Price and Schatz thought was perfect for Veterans Day.

The goal of the program, Schatz explained, is to teach life skills, and to have the students listen and formulate answers. Her second-graders, she said, look up to the fifth-graders and learn by watching them.

“The fifth-graders put their best foot forward,” Price said. “Some don’t have younger siblings, so it’s an opportunity for them to be a good role model. For my fifth-graders, this is the highlight of their year.”

The children appeared to enjoy their interaction with the veterans. Kai Charon, of Bayville, said he was surprised to learn that the men were given three meals a day in the military, but no snacks.

“Breakfast was always the same, and I enjoyed it — bacon, eggs, grits and milk,” said Vietnam Army veteran Rich Bathie. “You could smell dinner cooking, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I think we’re having steak,’ but then it was liver and I hate that,” at which point the children laughed.

Joe DiLorenzo, a Marine who also served in Vietnam, tried to find a way to make serving in the military relatable for the children. “The idea of the military is to be on time like you do in school,” he said. “You do things in an orderly fashion there just like you do here.”

And keeping fit was important, as it is for students, DiLorenzo continued, but in the military it was even more so. “When you went to breakfast and everywhere else, you ran there,” he said. “You had to be in shape.”

Second-grader Santiago Acosta had many questions for the veterans. He wanted to know what someone in the military experienced on the first day. DiLorenzo said he had his hair “buzzed” and got many injections, so he wouldn’t get sick overseas. Then he passed around a photo to the children from his days in Vietnam so they could see what having one’s hair buzzed meant.

Fifth-grader Alexa Riccardo, of Bayville, said that some of the information the veterans shared surprised her. “There’s more teamwork than I thought,” she said. “The veterans had to get used to each other, and after a while they became friends. I also learned that the reason why they dressed the same and shaved their heads was so everyone could feel like they were the same.”

Scott McElhiney, the principal of Bayville Intermediate, said he was happy that the children were speaking directly to the men. “It’s great for them to hear the consistent message from the veterans about community and country,” McElhiney said, “and for them to see that after so many years, the veterans are still giving back to their community by coming to a school to talk to students.”

The goal of the We Have Character program is to engage in character work together to create good citizens, McElhiney said, which meeting with the veterans advanced.

Veteran Frank Herlihy said that everything the children asked surprised him. And he was impressed, he added, that they listened to every word he said.

“I told them the advantage of joining the military is that they could see the world,” he said. “And I told them how interesting it was to meet people from other parts of the world.”

Having served in the Navy in Vietnam, Herlihy said he confused the children when he told them that he was never on a ship because he was in a patrol squadron aircraft serving as the mechanic.

“When they asked me what the experience of serving taught me, I told them that I realized that there’s a whole new world out there,” he said, “and when they asked me how the military experience helped me to grow up, well that was easy — I became an adult right away.”