Bush calls on veterans to help students cope

Initiative announced at Rockville appearance

War On Terrorism

The Nation

October 31, 2001|By David L. Greene and Ellen Gamerman | David L. Greene and Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ROCKVILLE - The gigantic American flag that greeted President Bush at Thomas S. Wootton High School yesterday was composed of individual sheets of paper, each with a note or drawing from a student to capture his or her emotions, post-Sept. 11.

"I drew a picture of a girl on a hill - looking out, forward to the future, but not being sure what's ahead," said 17-year-old Tiffany Fu, who said before Bush spoke that she "did not want any vague reassurances."

"I want to hear some ideas," she said.

Bush came to the Montgomery County school with a new idea.

Though he has been saying for weeks that the nation is waging "a different kind of war," he suggested yesterday that there is still much for young Americans to learn from past conflicts to help them cope with this one.

To that end, he announced a White House initiative that will bring veterans to schools around the nation during the week of Veterans Day next month, to discuss their war experiences.

Veterans, Bush said, "have extraordinary stories" that "show us the meaning of sacrifice and citizenship."

"We will remember generations that fought in the cold mountains of Korea and manned the outposts of the Cold War," the president told several hundred students, who welcomed him with a pep rally of ear-piercing screams, cheers and the occasional "Yeah, Dubya!"

"We will remember those who served in the jungles of Vietnam, and on the sands of the Persian Gulf," he said. "In each of these conflicts, Americans answered danger with incredible courage."

Victor Fuentealba, 79, a Baltimore native who served as an Army sergeant in World War II and was in the audience yesterday, said that "students today are rapidly learning now what the world is really like and how valuable democracy is."

This generation, he added, faces invisible threats and hidden enemies. "We knew who we were fighting from the beginning," Fuentealba said of his years of service.

It was Bush's second visit to a Washington-area school in six days. On Thursday, he announced at an elementary school in the District of Columbia a program in which American children would express their feelings about the crisis in letters to children in the Middle East.

During his many visits to schools before Sept. 11, Bush tended to trumpet his ambitious plan to reform the public schools, something he seldom mentions anymore. Now, his visits to schools serve as occasions to try to connect with youngsters and to help them feel involved in America's campaign against terror.

Some students said they felt a bit too involved yesterday, as Secret Service agents with bomb-sniffing dogs combed their classrooms in advance of Bush's arrival. Rumors were floating that there had been a threat made to the school, and that the security sweep was more than routine.

"People are just too cautious and uptight right now," said 16-year-old Andrew Drucker.

Drucker said he wished that Bush could provide a fresh "update" on the war.

"It's getting redundant and repetitive," the student said. "You haven't heard about anyone new who's been captured. I'm not getting impatient - just a little frustrated."

The president's young audience seemed familiar with the military campaign in Afghanistan and the anthrax threat. Some students said they had been discussing all of it in their classrooms.

Though the school nickname is the Patriots, students conceded that they were not always models of patriotism. Each morning, when the Pledge of Allegiance was read, many used to nap or finish homework. That changed on the first day of classes after the terrorist strikes, when, spontaneously, many students stood and said the pledge aloud.

Bush called his audience "the first generation of students who has ever witnessed a war fought in America."

An aide said the president was referring only to recent times, and was not forgetting conflicts such as the Civil War, which was fought on U.S. soil.

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