Mt. Ulla students put on USO-themed show
By Shelley Smith
Students from Mt. Ulla Elementary’s AIG class, taught by Alexandra Shadroui, held a USO-themed fundraiser Saturday in hopes of sending three WWII veterans on the Flight of Honor.
More than 15 veterans attended the show, done as a throwback to United Service Organization entertainment for troops, and students have now raised $500 of the $1,500 needed.
Students planned the event and did the fundraising by themselves, and instead of focusing on WWII history for only a few days, they spent more than a month learning as much as possible.
They not only did research, but they also read “Taffy of Torpedo Junction,” the story of a North Carolina girl living in the Outer Banks while the German boats were off the N.C. coast during WWII. They also read a personal narrative from one of the 10 survivors from the USS Juno.
“This was their final project for the unit, and after they were introduced to the Flight of Honor, they decided this was what they wanted to do this year,” Shadroui said. “They have had to come up with all the pieces of the puzzle and figure out how they were going to highlight North Carolina’s WWII experience.”
Veteran Van Kluttz went on the Flight of Honor in October.
“It is hard to describe the flight,” Kluttz said. “They treated you like a king, and the escorts really look after you.”
Mt. Ulla AIG students seemed to understand what the veterans went through as they told their stories Saturday. They also video recorded each veteran who was present and will send the video memories to the National Archives.
“The world wouldn’t be like it is today if the veterans hadn’t fought,” student Amber Bouknight said.
“We just wanted to honor the veterans for their sacrifices,” Khara Fesperman said.
“They fought in one of the deadliest wars ever,” Morgan Corriher said.
“We wouldn’t be here today if they wouldn’t have done this,” Caleb Willis said.
Students had put together different stations with artifacts and pictures from their class field trips. One of the displays was full of photos from their trip to a museum where they saw a live D-Day reenactment. They also played plane spotter bingo with the veterans, who really got into it. Toward the end of the program, the students gave out peanuts and candy, just like the old days at the USO.
“This has been a great program,” WWII veteran Gilbert Russell said. “They’re sharp, and whoever’s in charge of them has done a good job.”
Russell shared his story at the fundraiser, and many had tears in their eyes by the end.
“I have memories that haunt me day in and day out,” Russell said. “We didn’t have psychiatric help when we got home. We had to live with our memories daily.”
Russell said he enjoys going to schools sharing his stories and that it is unfortunate textbooks have only a few pages on WWII history.
Russell also shared his story of taking the Flight of Honor to Washington, D.C.
“It is one of the greatest things anyone has ever done for me,” he said. “I’ve had more recognition in the past few years than I did when I came back from the war. People have paid more attention now, and it feels so good. There’s not that many more of us left. It’s important for every veteran from World War II to see it.”
Student Robby Cogburn shared a letter he wrote to all the veterans.
“Thank you for thinking of other people as you served our country during World War II,” he said. “Thank you for being the greatest generation. You gave up so much to protect freedom for your family and our country. Thank you for fighting for us before we were even born.”
Leesa Cornelius with the Triad Flight of Honor was also there and said the class did an excellent job.
“When you have adults that want to carry on that generation, that’s what keeps it going,” Cornelius said of Shadroui. “It’s up to every generation to keep reminding that our freedom didn’t come free. The general public doesn’t realize their sacrifices.
“These children are amazing. Their compassion and humanity for these men and women is great, and even though it’s a project for school, they are going to learn and remember this for their lifetime. They are the last generation that will live with the World War II veterans, and they will be able to share their experiences.”
Shadroui said there will be two additional fundraisers in attempts to send two more veterans on the Flight of Honor. One is an M&M guessing game, and the other will be a school dance before Christmas break.
“The parents have volunteered and allowed children to run their lives for the past two weeks in order to make this happen,” Shadroui said. “I think it turned out great, and I appreciate everyone coming out.”