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Veterans are VIPs to sixth-graders
GMS students interview former servicemen for biography project
Lt. Col. Jay Gaspar, an Air Force veteran, shows Gainesville Middle School students the countries he lived in while in the service. - photo by SAVANNAH KING

A student asked a veteran what he missed most about home during his military service.

“Besides my family,” Lt. Col. Jay Gaspar replied. “I missed going wherever I wanted to whenever I wanted to.”

Gaspar explained to a group of sixth-grade students at Gainesville Middle School on Wednesday morning that he wasn’t always allowed to leave his military base, depending on the country and the situation.

Gaspar was one of more than 25 veterans to visit sixth-grade language arts classes at Gainesville Middle School on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some classes provided students with the opportunity to interview individual veterans in a small group setting. Other classes listened to one veteran speak to the whole class.

After the interviews, the students will write biographies about the veterans. The biographies and photos of the veterans will be incorporated into an ongoing exhibition at the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University in Gainesville.

The school and history center have collaborated on the Veterans Interview Project for the last six years.

Gaspar and three other veterans visited Haynes Kaufman’s class Wednesday morning.
Gaspar told the students about his experience as a pilot in the Cold War. He brought props to help the students understand what he went through.

Gaspar pulled an inch-long piece of shrapnel out of his bag and passed it around to the group of students.

He explained the small piece of metal fell near his feet after a bomb went off. He wasn’t injured. The students were curious to know what kind of bomb it was and how it worked.

One student asked about his decision to join the military.

Gaspar said he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army while he worked as a middle-school teacher. He told the students it was his preference to join the U.S. Air Force.

Ben Still, a sixth-grade student, listened intently and took notes on what another veteran, Sgt. Jim Begley, said about his experience in Vietnam with the U.S. Marines.

The students asked questions about every aspect of life in the military. They asked about how the troops slept, what sort of emotions they faced and how the food tasted.

“I liked how he went overseas and fought for the military,” Ben said. “He said the food was good sometimes but in Vietnam they ate canned food a lot.”

Ben said he wasn’t exactly inspired to serve when he’s older, but the stories were very exciting. He knows what he’ll write about in his biography.

“I’m going to write about how he explored different countries,” Ben said.

The project gives students a chance to learn about more than just history. They practice their listening and social skills while working on a project that will preserve history.

“I think it’s a great way for our students to interact with people who have done great things with their lives,” said Macey Miller, sixth-grade special education teacher. “These are people they can look up to. They’re getting a lot of social skills from these discussions.”

While there is no doubt the project provides opportunities for learning, it also gives students a chance to develop a sense of appreciation for the men and women who have served in the military.

“These are people they could see again out in the community and realize they’re a veteran and appreciate that they fought for our country,” Miller said.