Thank You

I first saw the emblem in a grocery store check out lane on a chilly evening in early 2004.
(Is it just me or do I start a lots of my posts out telling a story about something at the grocery store?  Do I spend too much time at the grocery store?  Yes.  Yes I do.)
(I only know the date because this was before children for me which means that I actually have pictures labeled, dated, and glued into a simple photo album.)
I noticed his jacket said "Pearl Harbor Survivors Association."
My brain started spinning.

I got on our dial up internet at home that evening and contacted the association.
They wrote back and before I knew it, men from around Texas had agreed to travel to Central Texas and to speak in my humble classroom to my US History students.

Before I became a mommy, I spent my days teaching high school students.
I loved it.

Five survivors of Pearl Harbor came to my classroom, including both the president and the secretary of the organization.  They were set to arrive late morning and so I began my day teaching as usual.
But then I got a phone call early in first period.
They had arrived.
Apparently they were excited and wanted to make sure they arrived in plenty of time.
So they showed up a few hours early!
I had an great administration and they provided them with coffee and released me from my regular duties so that we could entertain our new guests properly.

These men graciously spoke to my kiddos.  They spent hours sharing their stories and answering questions.
Most of my students had never left our town, let alone travelled to Hawaii.
These men brought the events of December 7, 1941 alive.  They described the sounds and smells and sheer terror they felt as our nation was attacked by the Japanese that morning.
One man shared how he has been unable to stop his hands from shaking since that morning in 1941. 

My students sat completely enthralled with the stories and pictures.
I'm not sure I had ever seen them so focused or attentive.

Towards the end of 6th period, the men were ready to go.
And I watched as my students stood and I have perhaps never had a prouder moment as a teacher.
I can not tell this story even today (or type it) without crying.

I taught in an urban school.  I taught in a school where most of the student body received some sort of government assistance.  I taught in a school where some of my kids didn't know where they would get their next meal or where they would sleep that night.  I taught in a school where some students had parents in jail and many students were parents.  I taught in a school where principals and teachers had high expectations and students often surpassed those expectations.  Too often, I watched as the community or society limited these kiddos.  Too often, it was believed that they couldn't possibly achieve.  But I was one of the lucky ones who worked there every day.  I knew that we had students who were going places.  I knew we were teaching leaders and kids who would develop into active members of their communities someday.  I loved that school.

My 6th period class that year was a "regular" class.  I taught several Advanced Placement courses.  
This was not one of those AP classes.
I had a mix of students.  I certainly had some difficult students.
I also had a group of interesting friends who somehow managed to get in the class together.  These guys must have had real names but for the life of me I have no idea what their given names were.
The names they went by were names like "Bucket Head" & "Deuce."  I can vividly recall entering in grades and consistently confusing myself all year long as I would look for Bucket Head's name under "H" and never find it there.  
(They put their nicknames on the name blank on their homework and tests.  This, of course, made sense because those were the names they went by.  But it always made me confused when putting in grades!)

Back to that winter day of 2004.  
As the Pearl Harbor survivors prepared to leave, I noticed in the back of the classroom as kids began to stand up.  I remember Bucket Head standing up (he had a big head of hair - hard to not remember him!) And his other friends began to stand up.
These young men led the class and before I knew it, my entire group of kiddos had stood up.
And one by one, they filed to the front of my class room.

(Good grief.  I am sobbing at my computer remembering this.  I so wished I had pictures but in some ways, it was such a sacred moment for me and I'm glad I was just present to observe it.)

And as each student reached those men who fought for our nation, they shook their hands.
And they said, "Thank you."

And then they quietly sat down.  Because what else is there to say?
"Thank you."
  We are so grateful for the courage and service of those who fight for our freedoms.

I was so honored to have those men speak to my students.  And honored to see my students respond so graciously and gratefully.
It was one of the highlights of my teaching career.

R briefly turned on the news last week and we happened to catch a story on of the men above, Mr. Echol, who fought for the US in WWII.  
I sobbed as I realized he had recently died and he was one of the men who came to my classroom in 2004.
I just wanted to share this story today - in his memory.

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