Posted by: Kirsten | Saturday, 10 November 2007

In Honor of Those Who Serve(d)

HomecomingDo your kids really know what Veterans Day is all about?  Our National Battlefields, Monuments, and Memorials are a great way to introduce your kids to the many sacrifices that countless Americans have made for their families, their country, and others around the world.  Our youngest kids can get excited about seeing cannons and forts and colonial uniforms, but how do we help our kids make the connection to today’s conflicts half a world away?

Many families have a personal connection to someone in the military now, but there are still many who do not.  Yet it’s equally vital that kids without an uncle, cousin, or mom or dad in the military value and respect the work of our soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors in harm’s way.

Parks with colonial themes are a good way to Fort McHenry Fife and Drumintroduce kids to the idea of struggles and sacrifice without getting into too much detail about the blood and gore of battle. Many now-peaceful forts and battlefields can be found throughout the eastern half of the country, and several exist out west as well, and usually provide a pleasant setting for a stroll or hike as you learn about some American history along the way. As you stop at the various battlefield visitor centers, be sure to ask a ranger or volunteer about the appropriateness of the park’s orientation film since some may contain images and scenes too intense for our youngest kids.

As the kids get a bit older, civil war sites may be appropriate.  Since more details are known regarding these battles from start to finish, be aware that those details tend to make their way into educational and interpretive materials, so be sure you know what your kids are able to handle, and always be ready to discuss it further with them after the visit.

As the kids get older still, perhaps it’s a good time to introduce them to more recent conflicts such as World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam, and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia.  As you visit places like the World War II Memorial or Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you’ll notice a startling difference from the Civil War and Revolutionary War sites — people who were actually there!  This brings a whole new dimension to your learning opportunity and one that should not be taken lightly.  Be sure to talk with your kids about the respect they should show and the ways in which they can show it — things like no shouting, running, or climbing around the memorials are very important to discuss beforehand.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Also take the time to quietly observe others as they visit the Memorials from our more recent conflicts — there’s much to be learned from other visitors as well. On a recent visit to the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC, my daughter and I saw many World War II vets passing through, making observations, talking about remembrances with pride, and some quietly weeping, perhaps about friends long gone.  One old soldier took the time to salute the statue of President Roosevelt, and my daughter spontaneously decided to salute the soldier right back, bringing a big smile to his face that I will remember for a long time.

So, this Veterans Day, let’s not forget about the men and women still in uniform today.  By the time your kids reach their teenage years, consider visiting the memorials to citizens and soldiers who have most recently made the ultimate sacrifice.  Seeing the uniform white tombstones that stretch out across the hillsides in places like Arlington Cemetery and the over 110 National Cemeteries throughout the country, and the sight and smell of recently turned earth, can give all of us that sense of perspective that no textbook ever could.

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