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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - This week, the Madison County Military Heritage Commission rolled out their school outreach initiative called 'The Price of Freedom.'
Lee High School JROTC students ask questions of a panel composed of Heritage Commission Hall of Heroes members Pete Schofield Eric Deets, Bob Karwoski, Leonard Robinson, and Ken Thompson (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)
"American freedom is not free and every generation has had to pay a price to preserve it, protect it and pass it on," says Commission President Bob Marshall. "It's really in our mission to ensure the passing on of that torch; that flame of freedom."
The commission began their venture Wednesday with two 45 minute sessions at Huntsville High School. Thursday, veterans and Military Heritage Commission Hall of Heroes Members Eric Deets, Leonard Robinson, Ken Thompson, Bob Karwoski and Pete Schofield joined Lee High School JROTC students for another Q&A panel.
"I've still got a piece of shrapnel in my neck," Ken Thompson told kids. The 97-year-old co-piloted a B-25 during WWII. When his aircraft came under heavy fire, he was able to keep the nose just over a Japanese ship as they continued their barrage -- and live to tell about it.
"Once you start in you've got to keep going, you couldn't, you know, if you turned you'd just let your belly be riddled," recounted Thompson.
Bob Marshall explains what's really happening during sessions is the transfer of character traits like duty, humility and a sense of purpose that goes beyond one's self. The Madison County Military Heritage Commission Hall of Heroes members are the perfect mentors to facilitate that exchange.
"Somebody's gotta do it," Ken Thompson insists. "In fact, I'm a little worried that the military has been downplayed and who's gonna do it, you know? It's got to be the military."
Right now in the 'exploratory' phase of the program, these messages are only reaching students who are already military-minded.
"We would like to expand the audience beyond that and make it available to any student who is interested," say Marshall.
The Commission is in the process of documenting the oral histories of several of their Hall of Heroes inductees. "That's been exciting to hear in their own words their experiences. And not just in combat, but how they grew up; who the influences were in their lives that prepared them to do what they did and then also how their experiences shaped the rest of their lives." They plan to use those not only in the classroom setting, but eventually to energize the Hall of Heroes display house at the Madison County Courthouse.
"To add to it an audio/visual experience where those interviews are available, almost like a jukebox for anyone who walks up."
Marshall says future plans, like continuing to gather historical treasures from veterans, will take time -- and, of course, financial support.