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Pupils learn lesson about meaning of Memorial Day

Chris Ruff of Educational Enrichment for Young People plays the cease fire beat while portraying a militia drummer during a living history presentation for Riverview Elementary School’s Memorial Day celebration in Spotsylvania County on Friday, May 24, 2013. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Most of the students at Riverview Elementary School live near or on battlefields in Spotsylvania County, and on Friday they learned from living historians and veterans how local military history fits into the national remembrance of Memorial Day. 

One of those students, 8-year-old Luke Sielicki, wore a camouflage U.S. Army soldier’s uniform to school for the event.

His father served in the Army working with helicopters, and Luke said that he also wants to serve when he grows up.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they serve,” he said. “It’s neat how they help us.”

Vietnam War veteranDennis Mroczkowski demonstrates how he used a compass during the war to third graders during a living history presentation for Riverview Elementary School’s Memorial Day celebration in Spotsylvania County on Friday, May 24, 2013. Mroczkowski also served in Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti, Croatia, Bosnia and Iraq.

The Memorial Day event was sponsored by Educational Enrichment for Young Patriots, founded by Dieter Stenger, “to reduce an average 40 percent failure rate among students in Spotsylvania County in history and social sciences, to gain a greater student interest in history and develop fundamental civics as young leaders at no cost to schools” according to its website.

Stenger and his wife, Allison Stenger, hold events at Spotsylvania schools up to seven times a year to explain national military holidays and historical events to students.

Principal Dianne Holmes said the events also help to fulfill the third grade Standards of Learning requirement of recognizing the significance of Veterans and Memorial Days.

Originally, it was to be held outdoors and include active duty military members, first responders and additional living historians. But the weather forced the event, in a truncated form, inside.

Luke and his classmates from Meadow Davis’ third-grade class listened to retired Col. Dennis Mroczkowski, 66, a Vietnam War veteran, talk about his experiences on the battlefield.

Mroczkowski was an artillery forward observer and told the students how he scouted out the enemy and told the artillery how to best adjust their fire.

He showed the students the map he carried along with him in Vietnam, the books that were issued to him during the war, his uniform and binoculars that he acquired in Kuwait on duty.

The students passed around the binoculars and Luke remarked that from the library he could see all the way into the lunchroom.

He tried to put those lost during the war into perspective by giving the students the raw, large numbers of the servicemen who died.

“Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in Vietnam,” he said. “That’s a lot of people to lose.”

He asked the students how many Vietnamese they thought perished in the war.

Students shouted out “5,000,” “100,000” and “1 million” before Mroczkowski informed them that the Vietnamese governments estimation was 2 million dead.

He informed that that the conflict in Vietnam lasted for nearly 30 years.

“When you’re six years old, 30 years is an improbable amount of time to grasp,” he said about explaining war to elementary students.

A living historian, Chris Ruff, 36, of Lillington, N.C., provided perspective on the revolutionary war for the students.

He works at the National Museum for the Army Reserve at Fort Bragg and said it is hard to explain to the elementary age group what warfare is and explain why America has armies.

“I want to impart the idea of teamwork to them,” he said. “And of leadership.”

He portrayed a drummer during the event and explained why it was important for the army to stay in line and in step.

The students were able to hear different drum commands and touch his snare drum.

Nine-year-old third-grader Archie Anderson was able to touch the drum.

“It was so cool,” Archie said.

Classmate 9-year-old Bryce Carr drummed as well but said his favorite part was the binoculars.

“It’s interesting to hear the stories about people who served the country,” he said.

Joey Ferguson, 9, in the third grade, said he was able to relate the presentation because his father served with the Marines in Iraq and his grandfather served in Vietnam.

Another time portrayed during the Memorial Day event was World War II.

Deter and Allison Stenger portrayed a U.S. Army paratrooper and a 1940s-era woman.

Students from Bevin Arnold’s third-grade class asked Stenger about her clothes.

She explained that women wore victory curls in their hair to support the war effort and added suspenders to dresses to make them more utilitarian.

She also explained how typewriters work and how they were used on the front.

One student, 9-year-old Skyler Buchanan, asked about the seeds women would have used in their victory gardens.

“I think it was really, really, really good,” said Skyler, who also said she now knew the difference between Memorial and Veterans Days.

Stenger explained that they would have purchased the initial seeds, but in subsequent years would save seeds from their crops. She also told them how the gardens also supported the war effort.

“It’s important for them to understand what Memorial Day is about,” she said. “Death is a touchy subject with this age group, but they really do get leadership, honor and what makes someone join the service.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976


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