U-46 students honoring veterans through ceremonies this month

 
 
Updated 11/9/2018 7:50 PM
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  • Retired Army veteran Sgt. Gabriel Gonzalez visits with a class Friday at Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin. Gonzalez retired in 2006 after 20 years with the Army.

      Retired Army veteran Sgt. Gabriel Gonzalez visits with a class Friday at Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin. Gonzalez retired in 2006 after 20 years with the Army. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Crammed into the school office, music teacher Mark Hutson holds the microphone while leading the choir in the national anthem during morning announcements Friday at Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin. Six veterans visited the school Friday to talk about their experiences as part of a special Veterans Day program.

      Crammed into the school office, music teacher Mark Hutson holds the microphone while leading the choir in the national anthem during morning announcements Friday at Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin. Six veterans visited the school Friday to talk about their experiences as part of a special Veterans Day program. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Sixth-grader Arian Zunica plays a patriotic song on the clarinet for visiting veterans at Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin Friday.

      Sixth-grader Arian Zunica plays a patriotic song on the clarinet for visiting veterans at Lords Park Elementary School in Elgin Friday. Rick West | Staff Photographer

It's one thing to learn about history from a textbook. It's an entirely different experience hearing it from someone who lived it.

That's what students at several Elgin Area School District U-46 schools learned as they honored local veterans and troops with special ceremonies, concerts, breakfasts and assemblies.

Dozens of local veterans are visiting schools this week and next to talk to students about their service and their lives as part of a program in partnership with Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

"We see how students' eyes light up when a veteran walks into their classroom and shares her or his story," U-46 spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. "It's an extraordinary learning experience. These men and women, many local community members, share everything from history to music lessons during their visits."

Tish Calhamer, Gail Borden's community engagement manager, is working with 40 volunteer veterans who will visit more than 100 U-46 classrooms as part of the Veterans Voices program. "This program draws on the power of personal stories and reminds students that history is all around them," Calhamer said.

Students learned important lessons, such as what it means to veterans when they hear the sound of taps -- a lone bugle call played at dusk during flag ceremonies and at military funerals.

"When I play taps, I think of all my buddies I lost in Korea, and I put a lot of feeling into it," said Amador "Johnny" Vargas, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran who visited Veronica Aristeo's dual language classroom this week at Garfield Elementary School in Elgin.

Vargas said he was proud to be a soldier and fight for the American flag that hung in a corner of the fifth-grade classroom.

Drafted into the Army, Vargas served from 1951 to 1953 in the 2nd Infantry Division's 38th regiment. He described how patrols were organized, how soldiers took turns for guard duty in foxholes, and his division's reputation as one feared by the soldiers on the other side.

As a retiree, Vargas' musical talents playing the trumpet as a child were in demand. He plays taps at military funerals and prefers to play the song, slow and drawn out.

"I want people to feel the emotions I feel," he said.

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