On Wednesday, May 1, 2013, Mike (Perimeter Grunt) Stokes and I attended the Rancho Cucamonga High School Rancho Remembers event. This event brings together high school students and veterans. The event also serves as an oral history that otherwise the students would never hear. After being guided to a parking place I was greeted by a student who showed me through a gauntlet of students. One student approached me and escorted me to a sign-in station and then to my table.
Three students then joined me for the first session. After the opening ceremonies we started on our first session of interviews. About an hour later there was an intermission and another team of students joined the table for the second session of interviews.
I was totally overwhelmed by the quality of the students and their questions. There were more than 300 veterans attending and about 1,000 students. This type of program makes me feel that America is greater than ever.
Rancho Cucamonga High School students host Veterans eventBy Diana Sholley diana.sholley@ inlandnewspapers.com
Six years ago, Aaron Bishop had a dream.
The Rancho Cucamonga High School history teacher wanted his students to learn about America and its freedoms, not from a book, but from the men and women who have fought to provide it. Bishop and fellow history teacher Robert Sanchez started “Rancho Remembers” with 38 veterans, a few dedicated volunteers and hopes that students would treasure the experience for the rest of their lives.
On Wednesday, more than 320 veterans representing all branches of service, were greeted by well-dressed students eager to hear what they had to say.
“I’m getting to hear and learn about first hand something that many other people will never get to,” junior Alexus Semanovich said. Alexus anxiously waited with classmate Melissa De Silva for their veteran to arrive and hear history unfold before them.
“To hear what happened from someone who was there and have them tell us how they feel is amazing,” Melissa said.
To give the intimate experience amongst such a large gathering small tables are set up encompassing the entire gym, with one veteran at each table. From one to three students are assigned to sit across from each veteran, listen to the stories and ask questions.
There are two sessions allowing students to meet two veterans and get insight into different eras, wars, duties and branches of service.
Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Labbe, currently serving as a recruiting officer in the San Gabriel Valley, got emotional talking about the school’s annual event. “I have been to a lot of high schools and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Labbe, a member of the 10th Mountain Infantry.
Labbe, who was stationed in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and in Afghanistan from 2010 2011 was looking forward to sharing stories with the students and letting them know how he feels about serving. “At the end of the day, I want to go home feeling like I’ve accomplished something,” he said. “Everyday overseas you feel like you’ve accomplished something. ”
Students were glued to their seats while listening to Phillip Le, the first South Vietnamese veteran to attend the event. “I remember well the day we lost our country, April 30 (1975)” Le said. “We had tried to show the world how the North treated it’s citizens – very bad. For 38 years there’s been more crime. People try very hard to get out of country. ” Le, a 64-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident, joined the South Vietnamese Army when he was 19, then immigrated to the United States in 1975.
“We fought the North because they believed in communism- but we believed in freedom,” he said. “We believe like America and welcomed America’s help to stand up for freedom. ”
World War II Navy veteran Andy Mills, 98, battled another kind of war on the home front. “He had to go down to the enlistment office many times before they’d let him sign up,” said Jamille Hamlet, Mills’ great niece. Mills is African American, but would not let racism keep him from serving his country.
“They finally let him sign up, but then his shipmates tried to get him to quit, but he told them, ‘No way, I’m not quitting.’ They wouldn’t let him fight along side them, but he eventually gained their respect and did fight alongside them. ”
Hamlet, whose children attended Rancho Cucamonga High School, said her great uncle shared many stories with the family and believed it was important for the students to learn of his trials. “There were not a lot of African Americans in the service at that time,” she said. “He had to fight to get in, then fight to stay in. ” Mills, who enlisted in 1934 and was honorably discharged in 1946, was stationed aboard the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier that took part in many combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II.
“I did go through segregation and it was bad, but I don’t like to dwell on the bad stuff,” he said.
World War II Army Air Corps Glider Pilot Bob Meyer attended the event, but it was a miracle. Not because he’s 91, but because he flew in four missions, the first one on D-Day. “I looked up one time what the average life span was for a glider pilot – you know what it said? 15 seconds,” Meyer said with a laugh. “You know what my claim to fame is? I never got one scratch on my plane. ” Meyer explained that the main duty of a glider pilot was to sneak behind enemy lines and cut telephone wires.
“They had no walkie-talkies, no radio, just the telephone,” he said. “We had to carry enough supplies with us to last 30 days. ” Listening to Meyer along with the students was bestselling author Eric Blehm, who was doing research for his next project. Blehm’s books include, “The Only Thing Worth Dying For,” “The Last Season” and “Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown. “
“I’m blown away by what this school has done,” Blehm said. “Our military fights for the freedom we all enjoy. What this school and these students are doing here at this school is amazing. “