Former soldier teaches children about World War II

NEIGHBORS

November 23, 1998|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DEAR MR. HANNA,

My name is James Keith and I am a fifth grade student at William Winchester Elementary School here in Westminster. I just want to thank you personally for protecting my country. I may not know what service you were in or even what war you were involved in. This I do know, I am very thankful that you risked your life and fought to keep our country free. On Veteran's Day I will remember your fallen friends who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that I could be free. Thank you for protecting my country.

Your friend,

James Keith

When James Keith wrote his letter to Westminster resident Robert N. Hanna Jr., he knew little about the veteran's history in the Army. James, or J. P. as his friends call him, was following through on an assignment from his teacher, Michael Cole, to send letters to veterans of several wars -- many of them members of Cole's church or linked to teachers at the elementary school.

J. P.'s letter is only the second time that anyone has thanked Hanna for his service in World War II. The decorated sergeant was so appreciative that he came to William Winchester last week to meet J. P. and his classmates and to share memories of the days when he was nicknamed "Hand Grenade" Hanna.

Wearing a uniform adorned with a bronze star for exemplary conduct, his combat infantry badge, three hash marks (each for six months spent in overseas duty), staff sergeant's chevrons, his Army emblem and another emblem representing his division, Hanna told the students about his days in the South Pacific, Korea and Okinawa.

He passed around photographs of himself and his Dundalk buddy, Ralph "Buzz" Groves -- 18-year-olds dressed proudly in their uniforms. He shared letters of commendation, souvenir scraps from a Japanese tank that he peeled off with his bayonet, and a steel-covered copy of the New Testament he carried during the war.

Did you wear a bulletproof vest? Did you find any camouflaged weapons? Did you come face to face with the Japanese? What was your favorite gun? Were you ever really afraid? These were some of the questions Hanna artfully fielded.

"Whenever anyone asks me if I killed anyone, I just tell them, 'I am here,' " Hanna said. "During training we watched two movies: 'How to Get Killed in One Easy Lesson,' and 'Kill or be Killed.' The Japanese had no regard for life. You bet I got scared, pretty darn scared."

The children heard powerful descriptions, like: "In Korea, the wind didn't blow, it screamed," and about the moments before two torpedoes sailed by Hanna's ship, when there "was a holy hush over the water, a bad feeling."

Hanna joked that one time he thought for sure he had been hit by a bullet; he fell to the ground and felt a rush of something warm on his leg, presumably blood, so he called for a medic.

"You'll be all right, sergeant," he was told. "A bullet hit your canteen, and that is the water pouring out."

"I appreciate you sending me that letter," Hanna told J. P., shaking the boy's hand. "You all have heard a lot today. Mr. Cole said many of you might not know about World War II. I hope you understand more. It's good to hear thanks."

Parents learn lessons

More than 75 parents of kindergarten and first-grade pupils at Friendship Valley Elementary School took part in a workshop last week to learn how to follow up with reading and writing lessons taught in the classroom.

Parents learned about "chunks," or groups of letters that are often found in words -- "at," "ank," and "ick," to name a few. They heard about stretching out the sounds of words, placing colored cards in spaces for each sound, and identifying "pocket words," or words that aren't easily broken down or sounded out.

Alphabet sound cards, stretching out words and checking the book for spelling accuracy are all part of the school's instructional method called "Interactive Writing."

Kindergarten teachers Ann Kyker and Bonnie Dorsey joined reading specialist Karen London and advancing early literacy tutor Chris Krebs to explain the instructional method to parents.

The school began using the technique four years ago with children who needed additional tutoring in reading. The success rates persuaded teachers to use it for all pupils. Last year, Interactive Writing was incorporated into kindergarten and first-grade lessons.

Perhaps the biggest boost for this instructional method comes from the direct link between reading and writing. Pupils and teachers begin by reading and exploring a book. They often ask questions, like how many words are in the title, what picture is on the cover, what do the pictures reveal about the text?

The next day, pupils and teachers begin to write sentences about the book. This is the day of stretching out words so pupils can hear each sound, looking at alphabet sound cards and noticing certain conventions like spacing, capitalization and punctuation. Teachers often use a colored pen to fill in sounds the pupil can't identify.

Next, everyone finishes writing the sentences by going back to the book to check for correct word use and spelling accuracy. During this stage, pupils read each sentence and ask themselves, "Does is sound right, does it look right and does it make sense?"

"I like this method because the kids know they don't have to know everything at once. Reading and writing happen in stages," said Sandy Cheatham, whose son, Tyler, is in the first grade. "Kids are an active part of the learning process, and it's not so overwhelming."

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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