Stories Share Veterans
Deseronto students hear from local veterans
Generations separated by years and lived experience came together this week to remember the sacrifices of Canada’s military members.
Five veterans spanning decades of Canadian military missions and conflicts sat before a crowd of grades 6 through 8 students at Deseronto Public School on Nov. 6, offering stories and anecdotes about their many years in the Canadian Forces.
Students asked about the veterans’ combat experiences, the length of time they had to be away from their families, and the reasons they joined the military.
“I wanted to go see the world, and I was lucky enough to do it, “retired master corporal Dan Cronk said.
Cronk served in Iraq in 1988 during a UN mission to Iran and Iraq.
One student asked about communicating with family back home when out on missions.
The vets talked about the different ways they could talk to their families: some by telephone, others by ham radio, and retired sergeant Jack Astles, a veteran of the Korean War, only by mail.
“I was over there 14 months, and the only way you could communicate with home was by letter,” Astles said.
“We had three weeks with no communication, and my mom was told that I got killed,” Cronk said. “She didn’t know. It took me five weeks to get ahold of my mom.”
Of the five veterans, four did not finish high school. They all said the military was the reason they felt successful in life.
Without military careers, the five believed they would likely be farmers, grocery store clerks, work for a lumber mill, and maybe not even be around today.
“It was a really good job for me, I can tell you that much,” Cronk said. “I’d go back in a second.”
The kids asked about life lessons that the retired military members had learned during their service.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned was that you had to trust the people around you,” Foyle said. “No matter where you went to, you had to appreciate their job and trust them in their jobs, so that you could do your job. If you didn’t have that trust, then everything went downhill.”
“I found that the more you put into what you did the more effort I put into what I was doing, made it beneficial for everybody else,” Wagar told the students. “Just like school work, if you study you will do well the next day and you’ll be proud of yourself at the end. Same with the military. The more you put into it, the more you will get out.”
One student asked if being in the military changed people.
“It does,” retired sergeant Kelvin McDonald said. “There’s a thing called post- traumatic stress disorder, and the people who go over there, quite a few of them come back and they’re not the same. They have to seek medical help, they have nightmares. It all depends on where you were and what you were doing.”
A student wondered what was the most difficult part of serving overseas.
“You miss your mom and dad. Doesn’t matter how old you get,” Wagar said.
Wager spoke about his first combat experience and noticing the emotions of a fellow soldier.
“His eyes were almost as big as the goggles [ of the gas mask he was wearing],” Wagar said. “That was the first time I’ve seen people who were really scared. I know I had the same look of fear in my eyes as he had.”
Veterans from Royal Canadian Legion Branch 280 in Deseronto have participated in the event with the local public school children every year for several years.
Usually the event is held at the Deseronto Public Library, but this year it moved to the school due to poor weather and walking conditions for the students.
After students had returned to their classrooms, the veterans said that talking to kids about military life, war and personal experiences is beneficial for their knowledge of the world.
“It gives the kids maybe some insight into different things that happen in the world, not just military- wise,” Foyle said. “It has to give them a bit of insight into the future. It gives them something to think about.”
“They have good questions,” Cronk said.
Foyle wanted the youth to understand that the military has made him a better person.
“The camaraderie, the friendships you have while you’re in there, it’s totally different than going to school or university,” Foyle said. “It’s learning to get along with people, whether you like that person or not. You learn to do that. I think that’s an important thing to do.”
McDonald had one closing message for people of the young generation.
“We were all proud to serve, and would do it again,” McDonald said.
Smith said it is difficult to calculate the expense of running the program every year.
“We depend on donations, but we also have sponsors who will sponsor a family and those sponsors might be schools, businesses, churches and church groups and individual families,” she explained. “It’s hard to put a dollar figure on it because we don’t know until the end of registration how many families we have and how many will be assisting. Last year we had 400 families and that could be a family of two or a family of nine.”
In addition to donations, there are also a number of fundraising events to support the program.
Turkey bingo will be held at the Belleville Club on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7 p. m. with the doors open- ing at 6: 45 p. m. A pair of shows will also be held for the second annual Christmas Spectacular at St. Columba Presbyterian Church on Dec. 2, ( 2: 30 p. m.) and Dec. 5, ( 7: 30 p. m.) which will offer support to the program.
ENCORE, a musical journey through the ‘ 60s and ‘ 70s, will be held at Maranatha Auditorium, 100 College St., West on Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p. m. and on Dec. 1 at 2 p. m. and again at 7 p. m. Tickets are $ 20 each and can be purchased at the door or in advance at the Maranatha office, 613- 9622062
Christmas Sharing covers Belleville and surrounding areas; west to and including White Road, south into Ameliasburg and north but not including Stirling, Madoc, and Tweed, east to Desoronto.
Picton, Tweed, Madoc and Stirling have their own programs.
Registration ends Nov. 30, and is on the second floor of Century Village , 199 Front St., Suite 206A. The office is open from 10 a. m. to 4 p. m., weekdays only.
Applicants must bring proof of income ( cheque/ pay stub, social assistance statement ( if applicable)) health cards and proof of address.
Retired military members Gerry Foyle, Dan Cronk, Jack Astles, Kelvin McDonald and Karl Wagar spoke with grades 6 through 8 students at Deseronto Public School on Tuesday.