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Kids bring joy to veterans, learn about sacrifices

August 18, 1998

Kids visit veteransBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer [enlarge]




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The children's voices and enthusiasm rose and fell, depending on the tempo of the tune and how well they knew the words.

"Barbara Ann" by The Beach Boys, and "Yellow Submarine" by The Beatles, had the majority up dancing and singing along. Muted ballads lost the attention of younger children, who squirmed, talked and even wandered off stage.

The inconsistency didn't seem to bother the audience of patients, parents and staff gathered Tuesday morning for the first "Eaglepalooza" at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg.

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"They did excellent," said Vietnam veteran Bill Moore, who videotaped parts of the performance when he wasn't joining in the singing and dancing.

More than 50 children, ages 5 to 13, along with some of their new veteran pals, participated in the hour-long rock 'n' roll show put on by the VA Center's Little Eagle Child Care Center.

In its eighth year, the child-care center has incorporated interaction with veterans in its programs during the school year and in the summer since its second year, said head teacher Judy Reynolds.

It benefits both the VA patients, who like the normalcy the children bring to their lives, and the children, who are taught to appreciate the sacrifice the veterans made for their country, Reynolds said.

Students sing at twice-monthly birthday parties for VA Center residents, Reynolds said. They also try to include the veterans and staff in holiday activities, she said.

This summer, students paired up with veterans participating in the center's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Residential Rehabilitation Program for a variety of activities, including readying for the show, Reynolds said.

The 90-day inpatient program is designed to help veterans learn to function successfully outside the VA, including developing coping and financial skills, and teaching them how to to deal with anger, said Theresa Crawford, a readjustment counseling assistant with the program.

Moore, 50, who will graduate from the program this week, said the children have been a joy to be around and an inspiration in his efforts to get his life together.

"You can kind of sit back and look at things you miss by being involved in drugs and alcohol," said the Newark, N.J., resident. "It does a lot to see the kids because they're the future."

Parent Tim King said he likes how the child-care program incorporates the VA Center patients into activities and thinks it benefits sons Brandon, 7, and Travis, 5, as well as the veterans.

"I'm sure it goes both ways," said King, who works at the Leetown (W.Va.) Science Center.

"As a parent, I feel really good about my daughter being here," said Martinsburg resident Brenda Caton, a secretary at the VA Center.

A lot of people forget about the veterans and their contributions, said her daughter, Brittany Caton, 11, who said she was thinking about the veterans when she sang the theme to "Titanic" in the show.

In the program since age 3, she said she plans to come back and volunteer at the VA Center after she gets too old to participate.

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