Colony High School pairs veterans with students for a real-life history lesson

Rob McMillan Image
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
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The Colony Cares for Veterans Club hosted the event, where the idea is to pair up students with veterans to learn about history firsthand.

ONTARIO, Calif. (KABC) -- It's a rare sight to see so many high school students all sitting and listening intently to stories from the past.

It's part of a program Colony High School in Ontario has called "Colony Commemorates." The Colony Cares for Veterans Club hosted the event, where the idea is to pair up students with veterans to learn about history firsthand, mixing education with inspiration.

The event hosted veterans from past to present. Students sat at tables with World War II veterans, those who served in the Vietnam War, and vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.

They shared stories and pictures -- one veteran showing pictures of a plane he worked on, while others talked about being in combat. One veteran shared how his unit got hit by an IED.

Others talked about what it was like during the draft. Jim Anderson, a Navy veteran, said, "I was a boy when I got there, and a man when I came back."

Air Force veteran Jerry Galang served in Vietnam. He showed the students pictures of daily life. "Can you see in this picture? That's them washing the clothes."

The veterans also spoke about why they served.

"I love my freedom," Anderson said. "I know you do, too."

It's the seventh time they've done this, welcoming nearly 100 veterans to share their experiences with students like Ezra Gales.

Like many others there, Gales was captivated by the stories. "It was real, in my opinion, these men. The emotions were there," he said.

Students learned about how veterans are treated today, where the veterans said they felt proud and how different it was 40 years ago.

One Vietnam veteran said, "I got horrible treatment when I came home. I was called a baby killer, you name it."

They learned about the rigors of the military, with one serviceman explaining that when you're serving, there are really no weekends.

Students learned about the benefits of being in the military, like free education.

But they also heard a frank discussion that included how the stress of being in combat exposed them to alcohol and drugs.

But for some of these veterans, the day was difficult.

Colony High School Teacher Nathalie Belletti said, "One of the students came out of the boys' bathroom saying one of the vets had thrown up in the bathroom."

But Bellitti said the overall feeling was that the experience was a good one, even cathartic.

"Year after year we have vets come and say, especially the Vietnam-era vets, that this is the first time they feel good and proud to be a Vietnam war veteran," she said.

And for all the students, it's an experience they would never get in a classroom. "It's just something you won't forget," one student said.