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Poynette-area veterans share stories, tell local high school students what life could be like

WiscNews - 5/11/2024

May 11—For 15 Poynette High School students, sitting down with members of Poynette's American Legion Post 271 and recording their stories last month was an eye-opening experience.

For one thing, student Piper Johnson said, it was revealing to learn that military service is not all about going off to fight in foreign wars. For many, it's where they learned a trade and set their future lives in motion. Some developed full careers without ever leaving the United States.

"I think its good to hear other people's stories and about different opportunities you can have in life," said Johnson. "It's also cool to hear about other people's experiences in the military. You might have one thought about what that looks like, but it can really just look like anything."

The interviews also helped quell preconceived ideas the students may have had about a veteran's experience, some said.

"I think a lot of the time when we think about war veterans, we think of people who had really bad experiences and people who have a lot of trauma, and I'm sure there is that side of it," said student Georgia Cuff, who interviewed veteran Paul Sporle. "But Paul told us all about the fun that he had and about a lot of the really good experiences he had and continues to have."

Understanding that not all military experiences are bad also helped students to see how the military can offer a family atmosphere, which allows a lot of veterans to stay connected with one another for the rest of their lives.

And it helped several students better understand how people their own age once lived.

"It's very different now," said Cuff. "With the draft and all that stuff going on then, I think that there was way more people joining the military, when now it's more of a choice and it's not as forced. And it also seems like there (are) a lot more options today (for a good life)."

The project, which social studies teacher Courtney Moen said precedes her, has been done for a number of years and is a student favorite. The students write individual stories about a veteran they talked to, and assemble the stories into two books. The class keeps one book, and the other is given to the legion.

"I tell the students that everyone's story is going to be different, so it's always really cool when we go back to the school and talk about what they learned," said Moen. "And the students really love this piece of the project, because they get to talk to someone who is real and not just read about (in a textbook)."

While the project had taken place the last few years at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Portage, Moen said it was more convenient to have it at the legion in Poynette, which is about 14 miles closer to Poynette High School.

Completing this sort of project in Poynette also helps to establish a sense of community, because the students who learn all about a local veteran's life will likely see them around town, Moen said.

"Some of the students and veterans have kind of formed friendships in the past," said Moen. "A few years ago, we had a student see the veteran they interviewed a few times through events at the school, as (the veteran) brought his family in for the events. And that was really cool to see."

Jay Gust, the commander of Poynette's Legion, who has been an active member of the organization for about the last 15 years, was among the veterans interviewed. He said the students' were respectful and asked poignant questions that prompted thoughtful responses.

"They are so enthusiastic and they are so eager, and like little sponges, suck up the information," he said.

Gust said he feels that the education that comes from talking to veterans is a huge benefit of the project for the students.

"It teaches the kids how life could be, and how it was," said Gust. "And any of them who are interested in a military career could also maybe pick up a tip or two."

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