KOREAN WAR veteran George McConnon, above, tells students about life in a battle tank with five other soldiers.

KOREAN WAR veteran George McConnon, above, tells students about life in a battle tank with five other soldiers.

BRUNSWICK

I t’s hard to tell, sometimes, from where a lesson will come.

About 150 sixth-graders at Brunswick Junior High School spent Wednesday interviewing local military veterans about their service. Ostensibly, it was so the kids could gain a different perspective from which to write a narrative and satisfy a component of their language arts curriculum.

AT LEFT, Marty Diller, retired U.S. Navy, points out Antarctica in a gazetteer to students Greta Anesko and Katherine Robinson.

AT LEFT, Marty Diller, retired U.S. Navy, points out Antarctica in a gazetteer to students Greta Anesko and Katherine Robinson.

Teacher Kim Sampietro said the primary goal is to teach the kids about interviewing and researching, and to get them thinking about what goes into narrative structure.

But the research also is part of a larger Veterans Day project.

The lesson this particular day turned out to be about heroism and personal sacrifice for civic duty — and they learned it firsthand.

In six classrooms, more than 20 veterans sat at individual tables while clusters of students peppered them with questions.

George McConnon, a Korean War veteran and former tank commander for the U.S. Army, explained the complexities associated with living with five other men in the broom closet-sized belly of an M4 Sherman battle tank.

Robert Bergen described how he worked to keep a sense of perspective while deployed in the Middle East.

“Coming home was the best part,” Bergen said. “When you deploy, you put your whole life on hold.”

“I kept asking myself what I was doing there. But it made me a better person,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse for me, and I know it was a lot worse for someone else.”

Davielle Rodgers told her group about the uninhibited joy of Iraqi children receiving unexpected gifts from American soldiers — contrasted with the suspicion and constant tension of searching cars for explosive devices at security checkpoints.

She recounted getting a hug from a woman whose own children, as well as the orphans she had taken in, were given a box full of teddy bears gathered by Rodgers’ unit.

Only later, Rodgers said, did she learn the true significance of the gesture.

“As a Muslim woman, she was forbidden to touch another woman,” Rodgers said. “She could have been stoned to death for just giving me a hug. She risked her life to show me affection.”

The research is part of a language arts project in which each student plans to write a narrative about what they learned from their interview subjects.

Getting the narratives published is the final part of the project.

“Last year, as fifthgraders, they wrote about themselves,” said Sampietro, the teacher. “This year, they’re writing about somebody else.”

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