Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanks to my favorite veteran...

Recently, at the school where I teach, a first grade class discussed Veteran's Day. Their teacher, Mrs. Moize, asked students to write a letter of appreciation to a United States veteran, expressing thanks for their service to the country. I gave her my grandfather's address and promised we would respond to a letter if he were able to receive one. A little over a week later, we received an envelope containing a letter from Abygail, and a photo of Mrs. Moize's students holding American flag pictures they made.

Abygail wrote:

Dear Veteran,
Thank you for your service to our country.
Thank you for keeping my family safe and free!
Your friend, Abygail

Tonight, I sat down with Grandaddy to help him write a response. For those who don't know, my grandfather suffers from Alzheimer's and struggles with speaking. What I thought may be a half-hour process continued on for three hours. We started out slow, and he kept finding himself unable to come up with words. I went in search of some photos from his time in the military, and after looking through several, we began talking about the memories of his service experience. From there, the words just flowed. Here's what we came up with:

December 1, 2013

To the students of Mrs. Moize's 1st grade class:

Thank you for your letter! I am responding to tell you a little about my time in service, and after.

I was eighteen when I entered the United States Army. I completed my basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. From there, I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to attend mechanics school training for about six months. After that, I was sent to California to board a ship called the General Nelson M. Walker, which would carry me to Okinawa, Japan.

I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan for two years, and served as a Tool Room Clerk.. It was my job to take care of tools that Army mechanics used to work on military vehicles. In addition to that, I was on an artillery unit with about fifty men. We worked together hauling weaponry and practicing firing drills.

It's been over sixty years since I was in the United States Army, and I don't remember a whole lot from the time I served in Japan. I do remember that it rained QUITE A LOT while I was there. Once, I was stationed on weekend duty in the stockade, which was like a civilian jail, and we were working with the prisoners. We had just gotten lunch when it began to rain again. It rained so much, it washed the food right off our plates!

When I first got to Okinawa, they told us we would be there for about thirteen months. Then the war in Korea began to intensify, and it became pretty obvious that we would be in Japan much longer than that. It felt like we might be there forever! It ended up being two years before I was able to return home.

When I got back to the United States, I served a few more months before trying out a few different civilian jobs. I worked for two newspapers, taught 8th graders, and went to college. I attended Campbell College, Atlantic Christian College, and eventually, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I earned a master's degree in Social Work. Because I served in the military, the United States government paid for my college tuition! I became a psychiatric social worker and treated patients for over 30 years, until I retired. I met my wife, Frances, and we had three children, and four grandchildren. One of them is Miss Moore, one of the teachers at your school!

Now you know a little about me and I will leave you with this advice that I've learned throughout my 82 years: Try your best at everything you do, learn as much as you can, and be kind to those around you.

It made me very happy to receive your letter, and I appreciate you taking the time to write to me. Have a wonderful school year!

Corporal Bartel Frauendorfer
United States Army, Retired

Before we came up with the advice to offer the students, he said he didn't know how to end the letter. I asked him to just tell the students the same thing he'd tell me, anything he might've learned in his lifetime. He was still drawing a blank, and so I told him what I'd tell my students. "Try your best, continue learning, and be kind to the people you surround yourself with," I offered him. He said, "Yeah, that works." I laughed and wrote it in the letter. Although he may not have formed those words or that advice on his own, it's certainly the advice he has given me over the years through his every action and word. He taught me to work hard at everything I do, that even if I'm not the best at something, I can do my best at it, and no one could ask any more from me. He taught me that I should never stop learning, whether it be through school, the workforce, or from life. At eighty-two years old, he is learning new ways to communicate, get around, and function through his challenges. He taught me that it is better to be kind than unkind, because at the end of the day, we can only answer for ourselves and our own actions.

As I read to Grandaddy the final product of our letter, tears welled in my eyes. I am so proud to say I call this man my grandfather. The accomplishments he has made - his service to our country through his time in the military, his time helping patients through his social psychiatry work, and his time raising and loving his family - are the epitome of our advice to these first grade students. Do your best. Keep learning. Be kind.

I wanted to share this because I was so inspired by this project and the work these first graders did, and because I am inspired every day by my sweet Grandaddy. Thank you to all who have served our country, through military service or otherwise! Happy Veteran's Day, every day.

We included a few photos, shown below, with our letter to the students.

Bartel Frauendorfer, United States Army
circa 1947-1948 (?)

Damaged Japanese anti-aircraft artillery left behind after WW2

My grandfather's room in the Gorha Hotel
(where military members [and their families] stayed before they were assigned barracks)

Bartel Frauendorfer (left) and friend John Tonkin (right)
Touring Naha, Japan on a pass

My sweet Grandaddy and me!

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