‘They did it for you’

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The King’s Fork Middle School students were perplexed when they were directed to meet in the chorus room at the school.

The Young Men of Direction club arrived in the chorus room to find their club leader, Jamie Curran, in an empty room, with the teacher’s desk as the only furniture.

“What do you think you have to do to earn your chairs?” Curran, last year’s winner of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9382’s Outstanding Teacher award, asked the students. The club exists as a proactive measure against negative influences such as gangs and drugs, and it encourages middle-school boys to get involved in their schools and communities.

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Members of the club gave the usual answers — respect, honesty and making good grades all made the list Curran wrote on the whiteboard.

“These are all excellent answers,” Curran told the boys. “But they’re all wrong.”

Curran motioned into the hallway, and seven active-duty U.S. Marines, a Korean War veteran and a World War II veteran came into the classroom, each carrying several stackable chairs. The men remained silent as they set the chairs out in rows.

“The reason why you’re here, the reason you have a free education, is because of these men,” Curran said, choking up as she spoke. “They did it for you.”

After holding a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the group of young men fell silent as Billy Blackmon, Korean War veteran and past commander of the VFW Post 9382, spoke to the boys.

“It’s a golden opportunity for you,” Blackmon said of a military career. Each student, dressed in a suit or a collared shirt and tie, remained silent and attentive as Blackmon spoke.

“Do any of you plan on going to college?” Blackmon asked. When several raised their hands, Blackmon told them one of the best ways to pay for school was to join the military.

After Blackmon, Jack Lorber, a World War II veteran, took the stage. Lorber was among the first Allied servicemen to arrive at Buchenwald concentration camp and help liberate it.

“Nowadays, you have leaders of countries saying the Holocaust never happened,” Lorber said. “I’m here to tell you, the Holocaust did happen. I get upset when I talk about this.”

Several of the Marines followed their older peers, also gaining the attention of the boys.

“You guys are whipped into shape pretty good,” joked Sgt. Seve Crabtree. Crabtree talked about the Marine priorities of God, country, family and corps.

“There are a lot of people we should be thankful for,” Crabtree said. “How does that make you feel that someone would give their life for you?”

Staff Sgt. Marco Hernandez told the boys how he was on the verge of leaving the Marine Corps when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred.

“That ignited a new fire in me,” Hernandez said.

Members of the club said meeting the Marines and veterans taught them a valuable lesson.

“Think about the future, and don’t forget about the past,” Tyler Mercer, 13, president of the club, said. “It improved my life. It made me a better man.”