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Military vets share stories of wartime at Westfield High

Date: 11/11/2008

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD Each soldier has a story. Their individual tales of self-sacrifice and dedication to their country are rarely told within the broad landscape of high school textbooks.

Last Wednesday, history students at Westfield High School watched as servicemen and women shared personal accounts of life at wartime.

A panel of over 15 local veterans from World War II to the Iraq War participated in the second annual Take a Veteran to School Day in conjunction with the History Channel and Comcast Cable. Veterans at 350 schools across the country shared their personal experiences of military life and answered a variety of questions posed by students.

"We are grateful to Comcast and History for bringing this valuable program to Westfield High School, offering our students to learn firsthand from these community members about their experiences," Raymond Broderick, principal of Westfield High School, said. "Our students that took part in today's program have been studying the history, areas and timeframes that these servicemen and women fought in and this also provided the opportunity to recognize the sacrifices people have made and continue to make everyday for our country."

Tenth grader Giovanni Perez said he felt privileged that so many veterans chose to "honor us with their presence" and share their stories.

Perez's classmate Jamarcus Jeames mirrored his sentiments, adding that he comes from a family of servicemen and women. Jeames said he is looking forward to joining the Marine Corps after high school.

Twenty-five-year-old enlisted National Guard Spc. Patrick Erwin said he was happy to come back to his alma mater Erwin graduated in 2002 as a favor to his sister Amelia, a sophomore at Westfield High School.

When asked if it is difficult to share his experiences of his year serving in Iraq, he said yes, adding that he chose to tell the students about the lighter side of combat. Erwin explained that he was "nervous" when deploying to Iraq because he was "fearful to the unknown."

"The Iraqis were there to welcome us," he said to the crowd of students. "They were always asking for candy. We were able to put our differences aside and got to learn about each other. I urge all of you to embrace differences."

Master Sgt. Lynne Marie Bolduc of the 104th Fighter Wing was asked how her military experiences have changed her outlook on life. She said she is now grateful for the freedoms granted to those in the United States and that the military has made her stronger mentally, emotionally and physically than she ever thought possible.

"All of the people on this panel and in the military are my family and I would give my life for them," Bolduc said.

Retired Col. Linda Rowbotham explained that her 20-year military career as a member of the medical specialist corps made her realize that "freedom isn't free" and everyone must choose their own path, regardless of whether or not others agree.

"There is a War on Terror and there is a call to serve," she told the students. "And if you feel that call to serve, even if it isn't cool, you'll be forever grateful."

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Scott O'Dell of the 104th Fighter Wing encouraged the students to recognize military veterans and give them thanks, especially those drafted during World War II and the Vietnam War.

"Vietnam vets that answered the call did not receive a hero's welcome [when they returned home]," he said. "I went over [to the Middle East] for a few months and launched planes like I do here and I get treated like a hero and I can't hold a candle to what they've done."

Retired Air Force Maj. Edward Mullarkey said the education he received at Westfield High School helped him to overcome many obstacles he encountered while in Vietnam and throughout his 20 years of military service, which began in 1953.

"I would love to do it all over again," he said.

Many veterans, including Mullarkey, a father of seven, said the hardest part of military service is being away from loved ones for long periods of time. One veteran explained that "the definition of a veteran is any individual who has written a check to Uncle Sam up to the amount of his [or her] life."

O'Dell said that veterans' willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice is what makes the bond between them "unbreakable."

"You will be much better friends with the people you serve with than those in high school," he told the students.

Complete coverage of the second annual Take a Veteran to School Day will be broadcasted as a video on demand for all those with Comcast Cable.