Fifth- and sixth-graders at the Charles Sandman Consolidated School in North Cape May learned firsthand about World War II when three veterans told them their stories of what it was like to serve in the war at a presentation Nov. 7.
The week prior, the students learned about the role of Cape May during the war. Both presentations are part of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities educational outreach program. Robert Heinly, MAC's director of museum education, organized the program, which was presented to several schools in honor of Veterans Day.
Students listened to three local World War II veterans, Jim Rodan, of Lower Township, Vincent Pale, of Villas, and Dick Quin, of Rio Grande. The veterans also brought with them many photos and medals they received during the war.
Pale served in the U.S. Army Air Force. He was a radio man and was a prisoner of war for 14 months in Germany during the war. Nineteen years ago, Pale started a POW chapter in Cape May County with 29 members. Only three members are left. Pale, 89, was at the Sandman School last year with the MAC program.
"I think it's important to let the children know what we went through and why we did it, so they don't have to go through it," Pale said. "I just talk about what it was like to be a POW. We slept two to a bunk with eight men in one cell. There was nothing to do but tell stories to each other to keep ourselves entertained. We could usually bribe some of the German guards to let us do things by giving them American cigarettes. German cigarettes are lousy, and the guards would pretty much do anything to get one from us."
Rodan served in the Navy for six years and told his story of joining the Navy when he was 18 and "didn't know anything about war." His story was about serving on a ship and what it was like to sail dangerous waters with German submarines.
"I find that children at this age are interested in World War II," Rodan said. "Many of them have grandfathers who served during the war. I also gave this presentation to high school students, but they were not interested at all. As soon as the bell rang, they ran. These younger children stay, ask questions and are so attentive. Last year, I received 14 letters from students thanking me for coming."
As students filed by Rodan to look at the photos he brought, one girl pointed to a picture of President Harry Truman and asked Rodan if that was him. He laughed as she said, "You kind of look like him."
Quin served in the U.S. Navy Armed Guard, a branch of military that existed only during World War II.
"I served on ships that carried ammunition, not a good thing," Quin said. "I was also on ships with German prisoners, German officers. The officers would say, 'Heil Hitler,' when we fed them and it bothered us so much, we wanted to stop feeding them. But our officers told us they outnumbered us on the ship so we had better not stop feeding them because they could take over the ship. They were real Nazis through to the bone."
In the spring, students will visit the World War II tower in Lower Township.
"I think we don't do enough to teach our children all aspects of American history," Heinly said. "They can better appreciate it and understand it the more they hear about it, and what better way than for veterans to share their stories. World War II is just such a part of who we are as a country today. Through programs like this we hope that children learn about it and appreciate what these men did for our country."
At the end of the presentation, Rodan asked to speak to the children again.
"Don't goof off in school, or I'll give you the back of my cane!" he said with a smile.
For more information on MAC's educational outreach programs, call Heinly at 609-884-5404, ext. 134, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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