As we get ready to recognize Veterans Day this year, it always is a very busy time for us in my little hometown in Massachusetts. The small bucolic town of Millbury has a rich tradition of military history and the town’s schools put a lot of thought and preparation for their programs during both Veterans Day and Memorial Day in the spring where veterans are invited guests and take an active role in the events there.
Our little town was the home of Peter Willard of the American Revolution. Willard was a free African-American and was part of the militia that fought at Lexington and Concord. Therefore, he’s probably the first African-American soldier in our history. He’s buried in our West Millbury Cemetery. His portrait hung in our town hall for many years until a fire destroyed the building completely in 1971.
Millbury was once home of the Asa Waters Amory, one of six at that time in the United States, where Waters, a gunsmith, produced arms for the U.S. Army from 1808 until the Civil War.
As the Commander of our Local Veterans Council, we coordinate with the town and schools for veterans that belong to the local chapters of the American Legion and the VFW and our council to help make the programs a success.
Most of our vets on the council are aging. Many are from World War II, and we’ve lost two just since September, Korea, and Vietnam eras. Very few veterans from the modern era are getting involved. Which is a shame because not only are the children from the town not hearing their stories and experiences, but they are walling themselves off from helping the young understand not only the daily sacrifices that a military life entails but what is going on in the far-flung corners of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and 100 other places that most adults don’t understand let alone children.
Many have done their time, and are content with stepping back into their lives and don’t want to get involved. I get that, I was the same way when I got out. But then I met Joe Bianculli. Joe was a WWII/Korean War NCO who developed an eye disease later in life that robbed him of his eyesight, but he was far from blind. Joe heard more than the rest of the town ever saw and was involved in local politics, veterans’ affairs and everything else under the sun.
He wanted to more than anything else to be a paratrooper. He lied about his age to get into WWII to join the airborne. But the Army didn’t need them at the time, so he was an infantryman on occupation duty as he didn’t make it in time. He re-enlisted for airborne but Korea kicked off and his orders were diverted and he ended up as an infantryman fighting in Korea. He found out I was a veteran when I moved into town and he came to my house to tell me when the Veterans’ Council next meeting was. No invitation needed, be there and on time…
Joe was a character and I miss him terribly. Although blind, he marched every year in the Memorial Day Parade. He would place flags in the spring on the veterans’ graves in the cemetery with the help of his wife. I went to his house one fall afternoon to find him on his roof, cleaning the leaves out of his gutters. I stopped and stared, not saying a word. He said, “I can tell by the look on your face you think I’m crazy.”
So I went and got involved and two or three years later, Joe nominates me to be the next commander for the Vets council. At the time I remember thinking “what the heck just happened and how did I get myself into this.” But several years later, I am glad I did.
As I mentioned above, before going off on another tangent, (sign of old age), our town puts a lot of thought and preparation into their programs. And it involves a lot of interaction between the veterans and the students. And the reaction that we get from our educators and principals is that the kids get so much more out of these type of programs than the old standard ones.
At one of our elementary schools, the veterans are split up and sent to each of the classrooms where each will just a very brief bio on their military service and then the kids who have spent time researching different subjects will ask questions. And the way the educators split us up, you may have a veteran from World War II or Korea with a younger guy from the modern era. Their experiences are pretty different and make it much more interesting when it came to question and answer time. All of them were well thought out and a few were hilarious.
One kid said to me that his dad fought in the first Gulf War before he was born. He asked his dad about his war service and he won’t say much about it. He asked his dad if he was afraid there. He then told me, “my dad said he was more afraid of eating MREs than the enemy. He calls them ‘Meals rejected by Ethiopia’. Is this true or is he pulling my leg?”
One young man would tell me every year, that as soon as he graduated, he was enlisting to try to be an Army Ranger. He said it for four straight years. He graduated this spring and is currently at Ft. Benning finishing up his infantry training before awaiting to go to RASP.
Our high school does much the same thing where the vets will go to the Media Center and the students and vets have a question and answer session. Both sides get a lot of out of these school visits. We look forward to these every year as do the students.
We all give back because on Veterans Day is the time to recognize everyone who served regardless of their MOS, service or duty station. Everyone’s story is important and it is vitally important to our young people to recognize and realize how important everyone’s sacrifices are.
If you haven’t gotten involved with your local veterans group when they plan for Veterans and Memorial Day events, you really should. With so many families continuing on with military tradition, too many of our young people don’t understand what it entails to be an active service military member. And these people will someday be voting or serving in our governments that will determine your veterans benefits.
Photo: Millbury-Sutton Chronicle