Although Army and Navy Sergeant Robert McCarthy was home from Afghanistan for only 15 days, on Monday he was at Braintree High.
Wearing a camouflage hat with an American flag on it, McCarthy told the students what Kabul, Afghanistan is really like, from the smells of the city, to the heat, to the nerve-wracking unknown every soldier prepares for.
Despite any negatives, “I’ve got the best job in the world,” he said.
The comradeship, and the responsibility, which McCarthy detailed to wide-eyed students, had the soldier itching to go back to the Middle East. He will return on Thursday.
The soldier and Braintree alumnus was one of 13 veterans at the High School to speak about their time in war, all in an effort to bring awareness to the meaning of Veterans Day.
“The students have been very attentive. They have a better appreciation now,” said Gorman Lee, the director of Social Studies for Braintree Public Schools, who organized the event. “It’s not just another day off, there is an importance to why we have it.”
Now in it’s fourth year, the Veterans Day Keynote Speaker Event helps bring the history books to life with true stories of actual soldiers, people who have experienced everything from Vietnam to Desert Storm.
The list of accomplishments and ranks of today’s visitors was extensive.
Guests included Captain Catherine May Connolly, who was in USAF from 1961 to 1969, James Regan, who has been a Technical Sergeant in the Air National Guard since 2003, Charles Rountree, who served in the army in Vietnam, and John Fisher, who was a U.S. Army Paratrooper from 1943-1946.
According to Lee, the mix of generations and perspectives is especially interesting, as kids get a wide range of accounts of what was war like 50-70 years ago compared to what it is like today.
According Robert Grassick, a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force who was also in the Navy and Army, hopefully kids will take something away from the stories.
“You get a mixed reaction [from the kids],” he said. “Some ask questions, some just stare at you. They haven’t studied it, so they don’t know what to ask …but this was an important era in my life.”
Grassick spent over 30 years in some sort of military career. Although the local served in the military during Vietnam, he wouldn’t see combat until he was called up for active duty for Operation Desert Storm.
The realities of everyday military life aren’t something Grassick thinks majority of today’s youth understand. Regardless, it’s important for a younger generation to know what people are doing for their country, so that veterans can be supported when they return back home.
“Everyone here has a different perspective of what happened [while they were out at war]…but we have the same ending…we survived,” he said. Helping veterans who return “is the future of the country.”
Fred Myerson, a Corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967-1971, said that what he liked most about coming to the event was “I get the chance to share. Give a better picture,” he said.
As veterans were shuttled from classroom to classroom, and as numerous history classes got to meet and speak to the volunteers, Lee labeled the event as a success.
Students will write a reflective essay on what they learned to accompany the event, an assignment that will also be an interesting reflection into how today’s youth comprehend the realities of war.
“We’re trying to explore what students are thinking about,” Lee said. “I think students know [what’s going on], but this is about keeping the awareness of veterans.”
Current Veterans Agent Dick Walsh, who also spoke at the event, agreed that the whole program is very positive.
“Awareness is the main thing, and it’s to give the students a perspective from the different eras,” he said.