Chatfield fourth graders have opportunity to pay respect to veterans in local cemete

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Veteran Linda Forbes hands out American flags to Chatfield Elementary fourth grade students at the Chatfield cemetery last Thursday morning. The students assisted the veterans in putting flags on veterans' graves in anticipation of Memorial Day.

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS Veteran Greg Forbes oversees students putting flags on graves in the Chatfield cemetery. He explained to them the veterans are honored for their service and their graves should be kept in good order to show that honor.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“You’ll want to look real close to make sure you haven’t missed any,” advised Chatfield veteran Greg Forbes, keeping track of the gaggle of fourth graders eagerly seeking veterans in Chatfield’s cemetery on the southwest end of town last Thursday morning.

The nine- and 10-year-olds traipsed purposefully through the sprawling cemetery in search of bronze star-marked stones, posting a flag at each once they’d found them. Many stopped along the way to the next to read markers for people who used to live in Chatfield, commenting, “Wow, that person was born in Germany in 1881” or “That lady was born on my birthday.”

The students followed behind Greg Forbes, a line of disorderly ducklings setting out to learn the history of their forefathers in a place that Chatfield fourth grade instructor Kirk Affeldt felt was important for them to explore.

Affeldt stated, “I have been trying to come up with a community service project for the fourth grade where we are not involved in collecting something or raising money, but also something that we could get involved with the veteran groups in the community. One day, while visiting a cemetery, the idea of setting out the flags came to me. I approached the fourth grade team and our principal about the idea, and both told me to pursue it. Then I had conversations with the American Legion about the idea, and I went to a recent Legion meeting to further discuss the idea and logistics. The Legion was going to assist for sure, and I know the Legion representatives were going to meet with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) about joining forces with this venture with the entire fourth grade class.”

Teaching students about patriotism and honoring veterans is a mission the Chatfield Elementary School staff uphold each Veterans’ Day and throughout the school year. Affeldt was glad to have the opportunity to once more bring together students and the veterans of the community.

“The students at the elementary have the Veterans’ Day ceremony each Veterans’ Day at school, which is led by the veterans. Also, Greg and Linda Forbes of the Legion came into school to talk to the fourth grade about flag etiquette, cemetery etiquette and what our project will be,” Affeldt said. “I think that the connections our students can make with our veterans is important to have them understand who they are and what they stand for as a veteran.”

He continued, saying this project also provides another avenue for the veterans to meet with local children to pass along stories of their own and of those veterans who came before them.

“I know cemeteries are sacred places where people have many different and personal experiences,” Affeldt said. “I hope this will lead to further discussions and experiences at home about the reverence cemeteries deserve as kids grow older. At the same time, I hope in a respectful, dignified way, our students and veterans can celebrate these men and women who served and sacrificed for what we have in our country.”

Affeldt explained how a cemetery is a place of history of a community through the people who came before current residents, through the positions and titles they held, and the family connections they hold with people currently living in the area.

“I am sure there is quite the cast of characters from our community’s history that have done some amazing things, and maybe their stories might be told during our visit or at another time,” he said. “This may lead to further research into their own family history or connections they have to the generations that came before.”

Affeldt and fellow Chatfield Elementary fourth grade instructors Brian Kobs and Kate Johnson had plans of returning to school and chatting about the morning’s venture.

“We are going to discuss what we just did, what we learned from the veterans and find out anything interesting about who we visited at the cemetery,” Affeldt said. “Since this is the first time doing this, hopefully this will lead to other interactions we can have throughout the year with our veterans. I hope this is the start of a tradition that can keep building momentum and more veterans will want to help out with sharing time, stories or whatever to continue to make those connections.”

Affeldt encouraged other individuals who might want to join the students and veterans to reach out to him. “If there are people out there who would like to join us or have other ideas of expanding what we are doing, please contact me or anyone from the Legion. I think by meeting our veterans and having a common purpose, it will only lead to greater willingness to develop a comfort level to say ‘Hi’ on the street, at the store or at church. From there, the opportunity is there for both sides to find further common things together to build more relationships.”

And as the bus loaded with students rolled away from the cemetery gates, Linda Forbes had her own experiences to share, citing there were indeed hopes on the Legion’s part that they could return to the cemetery with next year’s fourth graders to post flags for Memorial Day.

She said she had been personally rewarded by the outing. “There was one little guy who asked me who the veterans were, and I said, ‘I’m a veteran, too,’ and he said, ‘Thank you for your service!’”