Veterans share their military stories with Shelton students

Four Shelton veterans offered some insight into what it’s like to serve in the military to Shelton Intermediate School students on Veterans Day.

Jim Martin was in the Army from 1947 to 1968, and was sent to occupied Germany after World War II as well as to conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. “I was in Saigon on the night the Tet offensive began,” Martin said of an aggressive military effort by the Communist North Vietnamese in 1968.

Walter Bills was in the Army from 1964 to 1967, spending two years in Vietnam. His job in Vietnam was to recover downed aircraft, try to rescue crews when possible, and repair damaged aircraft.

“It involved a lot of risk,” Bills said. “We lost a lot of people. That’s the way war is.”

'I didn't know what to expect'

John Gagne was in the Air Force from 1981 to 1995, and still remembers the feeling of uncertainty he felt after he enlisted. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Gagne said. “I’d either like it — or tough luck. It was a little bit of the fear of the unknown.”

Gagne was involved in military actions in Grenada, Libya, Panama, and Saudi Arabia (Desert Shield and Desert Storm vs. neighboring Iraq).

Mike Kellett was in the Navy from 1982 to 1986, serving on a destroyer. He and his shipmates were lucky because “we never once had to fire our guns in anger.”

Kellett's ship did go to the Mediterranean to support U.S. activities in Lebanon, and to the Black Sea once to send a message to the then-Soviet Union.

Direct learning vs. reading books

The four men spoke during an assembly at SIS for Veterans Day. They briefly described their experiences in the military and later took questions from students and staff.

Social studies teacher Bob Ayer said the assembly is a way for students to learn directly from veterans “rather than just read about them in a book.”

The assembly followed a morning breakfast and presentation with a larger group of veterans that was put together by students. “Students are able to show their appreciation and support for what veterans have done,” said Ayer, who is SIS social studies department chairman.

School on Vets Day called a good idea

The four veterans have spoken at previous Veterans Day assemblies at SIS.

Martin said he remembers being upset when schools first began to open for Veterans Day, but he now thinks it’s a good idea.

“I realize this is the best thing they could have done,” Martin said. “The kids learn a lot, especially with the Q&A. If they weren’t here in school they’d be home playing video games.”

Questions from students

During the Monday session, the veterans were asked about the kind of equipment used in the military, the most powerful guns issued to military personnel, if they had been on a submarine, and how they kept in touch with their families when overseas.

Martin recalled when soldiers couldn’t take rifles into tanks because they were too long. “You’d keep banging each other in the head,” he said, noting that tank soldiers would instead carry pistols.

The veterans said the military had been a challenging but rewarding experience.

Gagne said he completed his military career “with a lot of good memories and good friends.”

According to Martin, “All of my assignments were interesting. I got to see the world.”

Intrigued with amount of travel

Seventh-grader Robert Morgan said he was intrigued with the amount of travel involved with being in the military. “One of them got to go to Alaska for three years,” he said in a reference to Martin.

Social studies teacher John Pistor told students all military veterans are heroes. “They put themselves in harm’s way as soon as they put on the uniform,” Pistor said.

During his talk, Bills emphasized a similar point. “What [veterans] have given gives you the right to be here today,” he said to students.