Veterans share experience, insight with students

The Military Wall of Honor at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary displays an American flag, but not just any flag. It was carried by Sgt. 1st Class Ken Felchle during his combat patrols in Baghdad.

 

"That is not any old flag," said Steve Wright, a retired paratrooper, who organizes the annual Veterans Day Assembly. "This is our American flag."


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Felchle teaches at Kenai Elementary School and his wife Kristi teaches at K-Beach where their son, Conner, attends. Ken served in Iraq with the Alaska National Guard from 2005-2006. Last Friday, he was one of several veterans who shared their stories with the students of K-Beach during the annual Veterans Day Assembly which is organized by Wright each year.

"My number one focus, and the guests of honor here are the military children -- the children of our warriors," Wright said. "Our veterans, our military, everybody receives recognition, but the families and most of all the children are forgotten."

During the assembly, the students were told by many of the veterans that they were the reason they served.

"You folks are pretty much the reason why we (served)," Herb Stettler, a Korean War veteran said. "Our job was to keep our country free."

George Walters, a Green Beret that served in Vietnam in the 1960s, has a son that attends K-Beach, Bradley.   

"I look around here and I see the young folks, I hope we can get away from war -- and that none of you have to go to war," Walters told the students. "I'm very proud of all of you, I'm proud of these men behind me -- we're brothers, we're a band of brothers."

The veterans were able to use the assembly as a time to let the students know how much their care packages meant to them while they were deployed.

"You guys sent us a lot when I was in Iraq in (2005) and (2006)," Felchle told the kids. "Your support as well as everyone in this community was so incredibly vital to our success in war and our safe return, I can not thank you enough."

Wright called up the Blue Star moms in attendance, meaning their son or daughter was deployed overseas. Debbie Tressler, the school's secretary, has a son, Adam, in the Green Berets. If Wright had not pulled her up to the front, she said she would have stayed behind the scenes.

"(Steve) did so much for our son, to make sure he got recognized," Tressler said. "He knew I wouldn't speak up -- not just my son, but everybody's son."

Wright called up all of the students and staff with family members serving in the military, he said there were 80 students that joined him. He said if you take those 80 kids at K-Beach, and multiply that number by the number of schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, and even the state -- that number is substantial.

"You're talking about thousands of Americans that should be honored and remembered every year," he said. 

Wright has been organizing the assembly since 1998. The assembly gives students the opportunity to shake hands and hug veterans from their community, and listen to their stories of bravery.

He summed up why he keeps the assembly going.

"When you see battle-hardened combat veterans fighting back the tears while hugging a fourth-grader -- that's what this assembly is all about," he said.

Veterans Day is Friday, Nov. 11.

Logan Tuttle can be reached at logan.tuttle@peninsulaclarion.com.  

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