Monday, June 2, in Cassino, Italy, located north of Naples in Italy’s Liri Valley, the First Special Service Force Association tour and the Education First tour included 200 high school juniors from private schools throughout Canada, who walked a kilometer together to the Cassino War Cemetery. The Benedictine Abbey is 1,500 feet above the cemetery and Cassino.
The memorial program had a couple of Education First chaperones and students speak briefly. They would visit World War II battlegrounds, cemeteries, and historical points of interest in Italy’s Liri Valley, Paris and the D-Day beaches. Each student adopted the name of a Canadian soldier who was buried in the Cassino Cemetery. They researched their soldier. He became a person with parents, siblings and a special girl or spouse in Canada.
After the program, I walked to where Canadian members of “The Force” were buried. I wanted to read their grave markers. Pvt. V. Innanen’s grave marker caught my attention when I read his age, 17 years old. He was Killed In Action, on Jan. 11, 1944. A Canadian in our tour told me, “Innanen attempted to enlist in the Canadian Army several times. He used a different surname each attempt.”
As I prayed for him, an Education First girl walked to his grave marker and stood beside me. Pvt. Innanen was her adopted soldier. At 5-feet, 4-inches, her straight light brown hair touched the middle of her back. Her flawless facial skin was sprinkled with tan freckles of various sizes. She had bright brown eyes, with a perfect nose on her heart shaped face with thin lips forming a warm smile.
We talked about her being the same age as Pvt. Innanen. I shared my experience in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettunno, Italy. I read the grave marker of a U.S. Army sergeant who was KIA Jan. 30, 1944. He was 17 years old, too. She asked me about the FSSF Association. I shared, “My uncle was in the Force and had a picture of me in his helmet when he was KIA. I had the picture framed.” As a tear rolled down my right cheek, she gave me a hug as her eyes began to glisten, too. We exchanged, “Good luck on your tour,” and exited the cemetery.
She was a caring, inquisitive, and intelligent person who could become a future leader in business or politics. Possibly, she was similar to the Canadian girl who corresponded with Innanen. He is frozen in time similar to the movie stars, James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. If Innanen had lived, he could be her great-grandfather’s age, an age difference of 71 years.
Retired teachers are no longer in a classroom, but they are able to recognize a great teaching opportunity. The Education First students became involved in their history from their tour experience.
I was reminded of a 1984 movie, “Teachers.” Richard Mulligan’s character, Herbert Gower, was an outpatient from a mental institution. A high school administrator accidentally assigned him to teach a U.S. history class. Mr. Gower dressed as Abe Lincoln involving his students in the Civil War, no bored students.
Yes, I know it’s expensive to travel, but it would cost next to nothing to have each student become a chautauqua character from U.S. history each quarter in their history class, involving their fellow students. Our students would know more about our nation’s history than Keeping up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, Duck Dynasty or who won The Voice, really!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.