Veterans’ luncheon lets students learn about the sacrifice of serving


Pioneer librarian Donald Powell started the Veteran’s Luncheon three years ago in order to create opportunities for students to talk to veterans about their experience in the military. 

“The motivation for doing this was just to recognize the services of the veterans that have served their country,” said Powell. “I want the veterans to realize that there are young people coming up behind us and that we should be able to share our history with them because history is important and we don’t have to repeat it.”

With Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11, the Pioneer Media Center took part in creating an event that emphasizes direct recognition of veterans. Through the annual Veteran’s Day Luncheon, students who attend are sorted into groups to have lunch with veterans of multiple wars throughout American history. This event, having taken place for three years, is sponsored by both Pioneer and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization. 

Being a military veteran himself with a 20 year career within the Air Force, Powell views gratitude and commemoration for vets with high importance. 

“I want to not forget those who served, because it’s a different world being in the military versus being a civilian with family separations and tensions of going to war,” Powell stated. “It’s important to those people who are serving and those who have served to know that their sacrifice was appreciated.”

During the luncheon, veterans shared their experiences with students. Donald Campbell spoke about working in a helicopter company in the Army during the Vietnam War from 1969-70. 

“We did helicopter maintenance and then we also picked up fallen helicopters wherever they were… we did a lot of transportation,” said Campbell . 

Cheryl Vatcher-Martin, who spent 15 years within the Army, told students about her experience within Desert Storm during the first Gulf War. 

“For Desert Storm, I had to prepare soldiers to die,” said Martin. “I put documents together to make sure everybody was safe. I was in charge of doing wills, powers of attorneys, everything.” Martin went on to describe her initial experience enlisting in the Army, with only few women alongside her. 

“Being 19 with an infantry unit, I didn’t ask to be there. There were three other women. I did everything the guys did. I got injured, yet I continued to serve,”  she said.

Throughout the luncheon, the importance of representing different aspects of military service was prevalent. Campbell described winning his battalion’s ping pong tournament during their one day on a beach in South Vietnam. He mentioned fashioning bracelets from the tail rotor a UH-1 helicopter during his down time, creating a rare jewelry piece from scratch that’s worth nearly $300 today. Martin noted the importance that her involvement in the service held within her education.

 “I had to go to school a little bit at a time,” she said. “I won awards for my writing in graduate school. [Payment was through] the Army continuing education fund program and because I had a couple officers that saw my dedication and made sure I could get some of my classes paid for… I joined at 18 years old, out of high school, tri-lingual had no interest in the military and yet I’ve done it all.” 

The veterans also took the opportunity to share information of the recently released book, We Answered The Call: A Collection of Untold Stories from the Vietnam War, written by veterans within Washtenaw Country. Brent Richards, a Pioneer U.S. History teacher, authored a summary of the Vietnam War within the preface. Richards annually sets up a classroom interview with Vietnam veterans in May in order to give his students access to “living history” during their Vietnam war unit. 

“I’ve gotten to know these veterans over the years… through that, we’ve developed a friendship,” said Richards. “They asked me [to write the preface] two years ago over the summertime. It was a two year process in writing the book.” Richards and the Pioneer Media Center were given multiple copies of this book, as it was written for educational purposes for schools, rather than for store sales.

Richards noted the diversity of stories included within the book. 

“These are vastly different stories. Some are funny, some are sad, some are about combat, some are about food,” he said. “A kid could look at this book and piece together what it would be like for an individual going to war. It’s not all shooting and dying; there’s a lot of other things that take place. These veterans tried to write stories that they remembered for different reasons.”

Richards also noted how opportunities such as the luncheon or his annual classroom interview allow veterans to reveal the emotional distress they experienced during their service. 

“They’re always grateful to me for having them in,” he said. “They tell me that it’s incredibly therapeutic because they’re getting to talk to high school kids in a non-judgemental forum about their experience. Their story had never really been told until recent times, and yet it’s an important piece of the American history puzzle.”

 This idea of therapy came through in some of the more harrowing stories veterans told. Campbell talked about his first time being shot at, having a round of gunfire come through his roof. 

“I had been in Vietnam for five days and we hadn’t been issued anything,” Campbell noted. “Everybody was looking at each other because we had been shot at and it was like, ‘What was that?’” He described the experience of rockets landing nearby their lodging and shrapnel flying through the air.   

Patty Schleek, a veteran who served during Desert Storm, mentioned the turmoil she endured when she received letters from a friend who was stationed in a warzone within Saudi Arabia. 

“The letters were tear-stained. [They talked] about all the alarms going on and how soldiers had to don their gas mask every five minutes.” she said. The luncheon served to educate students on the multi-faceted experiences veterans encountered within service; while there were moments of emotional distress and struggle, they’ve garnered experiences that have affected them in nearly every aspect of their life. 

For the students who attended the event, it served as insightful conversations with the participants of historic wars.

“You could just get to know the veterans and how the war still impacts them now,” said sophomore Hillary Podeu Tchokothe. “I got honest knowledge about how women were treated in the war, nothing was sugar-coated. All the pain they endured was amazing and to work hard to advocate for other veterans is just beautiful.”