MILLVILLE - Officials at Lakeside Middle School wanted students to know there is more to Memorial Day weekend than barbecues and holiday sales.
So, they turned to those who made it back alive to remind students that the holiday honors those soldiers who died in the line of duty to preserve the county's freedom.
One of the veterans was Ed Birnstiel, a U.S. Navy corpsman assigned to the 1st Marine Division when it hit the beaches of Guadalcanal during World War II.
Birnstiel told the students who filled the school's performing arts center how he left his safe position behind a tree that was blocking enemy fire so he could treat a wounded marine. He said he was shot four times on the way, but still managed to get to and patch up the marine. Then he lay there as enemy fire hit the ground around him.
"I thought, I've got to get back to that tree because this is not a safe place to be," Birnstiel told the students.
Birnstiel, who injected himself with morphine to help relieve the pain of his wounds, was eventually carried out with the help of four stretcher bearers. He was carried past the bodies of several dead Marines.
"Thank God, I survived," he said. "I'm now 89 going on 100, I hope."
Then Birnstiel walked off the stage. The students gave him a standing ovation.
Alyn Dobrosky, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student, said she was "moved" by Friday's event.
"It was heartwarming," she said of the stories told by veterans.
Another eight-grade student, Michael Gluszak, said he has a better understanding of what Memorial Day is all about.
"I think this was good," he said.
The students seemed to get the message delivered at the beginning of Friday's assembly by Superintendent of Schools David Gentile.
"We don't know how lucky we are," he said.
Friday's event was also part of a districtwide effort to help the country's needy veterans. District employees who paid $5 could wear jeans as part of "GI Go Jeans for Troops Day."
The GI Go Fund helps provide assistance to all veterans, but particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, by helping them find employment and housing and getting their educational and health benefits. The district raised $850 for the fund as of Friday.
But the focus of Friday's assembly was on those who serve their country, including Millville natives Carl and Nathan File. Both are sergeants with the U.S. Army.
Carl, 44, and Nathan, 43, told the students how they both train soldiers to not only fight, but, according to Carl File, "to come back home."
Nathan File said he never intended to speak, but did so after hearing the response from the students.
"They really pumped me up," he said.
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