Mariners Celebrates Veterans

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Bill Hemans, a Korean War Navy veteran, and his granddaughter, Samantha, listen to a question from a student during the Mariner's Elementary School Veterans Day celebration. —Photos by Sara Hall

In a special Veteran’s Day celebration on Thursday, students at Mariner’s Elementary School met some of those that the holiday honors.

Kindergarteners through sixth graders learned what the national holiday is all about during Thursday’s special activities. Veterans from various military branches, ranks and backgrounds, and many with war experience, visited the school to talk with the students.

“It’s a great educational experience,” said event chairperson Cheryle Robinson, the volunteer mom who has organized the event the past five years. “(The kids) get to know what Veteran’s Day is (all about). It’s not just a day off from school… [The kids] learn all aspects of what it means.”

Bill Hemans, a Korean War veteran, answers questions about his time in the Navy during Thursday's Veterans Day celebration at Mariner's school.

The 42 veterans that attended told stories, show photos and display medals and badges on their uniforms and hats.

“The kids seem to be in awe,” Robinson said. “It’s a really heartwarming event.”

Ed Fitch, a WWII and Korean War veteran, said the kids were really interested in what he had to say.

“They asked a bajillion questions,” Fitch said. “It was a lot of fun.”

One question Fitch was asked was if he ate spam while on board the aircraft carrier he was stationed on.

Fitch then threw the intrigued third graders in his classroom a curveball, he asked them a question: “Do you know what dog tags are?” A good number of the kids raised their hands, he said with a chuckle, until he held up his tags with his information printed on them, including what year he got his tetanus shot and his fingerprint on the back of one.

Mother and son duo, Jackie and Jim Voelkl said the kids were great to talk with. Jackie, a WWII Women’s Army Corps veteran, talked about women in the military. People are often surprised, she said, to find out how many women were in the military during the war.

The younger Voelkl generation said his parents, both of whom were in the military, encouraged him to enlist before he was drafted. Jim Voelkl’s son is also in the service, he added.

A veteran points out the kids who invited him to the event during the morning assembly.

The celebration started with an assembly in the courtyard by the flagpole. After saluting the flag and patriotic songs by the choir, the veterans gave brief introductions before heading off to specific classrooms for more in depth stories, discussions and presentations.

While some of the veterans have no connection to the school, others are friends and family members of students. Fitch, whose grandson graduated Mariner’s Elementary School a few years ago, was invited by his neighbor, a Mariner’s staffer. Voelkl has grandchildren attending the school.

Parents started the celebration about seven years ago, Robinson said, and its grown from there. The event is now sponsored by the PTA and brings about 30 to 40 veterans to the school each year.

It’s a great way for the students to learn what Veteran’s Day is all about and understand why it‘s important to honor veterans, she said.

“It’s important for kids to have respect for service men and women,” Robinson said.

A veteran shakes the hand of one of the students in the class he just spoke to about his time in the military.
A young girl stands up amongst her classmates and waves as she's recognized for inviting one of the veteran's to the event.
Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Vic Bakkila and Army veteran talks to students during the Mariner's Elementary School Veterans Day celebration.
Bill Hemans, a Korean War Navy veteran, listens to a question as other students wave American flags during Mariner's school Veterans Day celebration.
Bill Hemans, a Korean War Navy veteran, shares a special moment with his granddaughter, Samantha, during his visit to her class.



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