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Honoring local heroes at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School

“I’m very happy to say that I’m here,” said Brian Mooney, who served as Sgt. 1st Class in the Army for 25 years, as he spoke to a classroom of third-grade students. “I have to express myself in that manner, because I want you to know that a friend of mine didn’t make it. He didn’t come home.”

The classroom fell silent as students listened to Mr. Mooney address working with troops with post-traumatic stress disorder after the Vietnam War.

“One of the last assignments I had was to take care of 48 troops, and make sure they were OK,” he said. “Some people do have problems, and that’s when they come to me. And just like you go to your teachers with problems — it’s best to talk to them about it, instead of bottling it up.”

Roanoke Avenue Elementary School students honored local veterans in the classroom Friday by listening to the stories of four local veterans. Each of them — Mr. Mooney, Virginia Figueroa, Raul Valentin and Barry Gilmore — were connected to the district in some way, said third grade teacher Gary Karlson.

“[Mr. Mooney] is the crossing guard that helps them out every day, he has a really extensive Korean War background,” Mr. Karlson said. “Our district assistant director of special education, Ms. Figueroa, had a really extensive background in education before she got into the military.”

After the 20 minute lectures, students and staff ate lunch with the local “heroes.”

Mr. Karlson, whose worked in the district for 18 years, said he brought the “Heros with Heroes” event to Roanoke last year after looking through memorabilia with his father-in-law, Mr. Gilmore, who served in the Army.

“I asked if he could come in to the classroom one day,” Mr. Karlson said. “He just does a really special job with the kids, and I noticed they get more out of 20 minutes with him then they could get out of two weeks of me trying to teach what a veteran is.”

Brian Mooney was a Sgt. 1st Class in the Army. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

Ms. Figueroa, who worked in the Army Reserve, told the class that the Army allowed her to travel the globe after college. During the event, she told students about when she served in post-war Bosnia in 1995.

“By the time I went in, most of the fighting had stopped,” she said. “We were trying to help the country establish their government and bring people back to normal. It’s hard after what they’ve been through.”

A local parent who serves in the Coast Guard, Mr. Valentin spoke to kids about his experiences patrolling the Caribbean as Petty Officer First Class. He said being in the military takes a lot of courage.

“There were some really scary times,” he said after a student asked him how the military made him feel. “Once when I was on a vessel, there were huge waves, and the boat was rocking. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it, but we did.”

Bringing the veterans to the classroom, Mr. Karlson said, teaches students about Veterans Day in a palpable way.

‘They’re worth celebrating. And, it just goes really nice with rounding out the education a little bit more, rather than printing out a couple of vocabulary words,” he said. “When they serve their country, they’re serving the community.”

Mr. Mooney said it’s crucial that kids learn about the time veterans have served.

“Young children need to learn about what older veterans have done so they have some idea what they might be facing in their near future themselves,” he said. “And not to be afraid of it, but just the accept it, and take the challenge on and do the best that they can.”

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Photo caption: Virginia Figueroa poses with a student at Friday’s event. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)