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Musselman High School students meet with veterans

November 18, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

INWOOD, W.Va. -- Dudley Brown thought he accomplished something when he managed to join the U.S. Navy when he was two years shy of the minimum age required to enlist.

"I thought it was hot stuff being in the service at 15," Brown said Tuesday. "Got back out of the service and joined an outfit called the VUMS (Veterans of Underage Military Service) ... and they had three, thick volumes of books of all the underage in the service and there was a lot of 12-year-olds in there -- 12-year-olds -- so that doesn't make you too hot," he said laughing.

Brown, 80, a Martinsburg native, said he left high school during his freshman year to enlist -- something he didn't tell students Tuesday at Musselman High School to do at the Take a Veteran to School Day event.

"I talked to a bunch of 'em and told them the first thing they should do when they got out of high school is enlist in the service," said Brown, one of more than 20 veterans honored Tuesday.

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A partnership of the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, Comcast and the History Channel, the statewide Take a Veteran To School Day initiative afforded about 250 Musselman High School students the opportunity to hear stories such as Brown's during an informal lunch and panel discussion.

The students heard from a panel of six veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Desert Shield/Desert Storm and the Vietnam era. The high school's Kaleidoscope Show Choir helped bring the program to a close with patriotic song.

Barbara Frankenberry, Musselman High School librarian and communications leader, said the event fit well with the Musselman-South Berkeley Community Library's annual program held each June to honor veterans.

"We couldn't just have those six here," said Frankenberry, who along with school principal Ron Stephens presented certificates to the veterans who attended.

Students were chosen to participate in the program by the school's social studies teachers and included members of the school's National Honor Society chapter and Student Council.

Becca Irvine, president of the school's honor society chapter, wore the dog tags of her great-grandfather, Thomas Henry Symington, who served in World War I.

Paul Comes, director of government community affairs for Comcast, said they had hoped to have Frank Buckles, the last known surviving World War I veteran, take part in the initiative, but he was unable to attend because of other commitments and his age.

Jerry Horner, a Musselman graduate and now a biology teacher at his alma mater, told the students that he really didn't want to go to Vietnam, but in hindsight now relishes the friendships he made in his four years in the Navy as a communications technician.

Veteran Mark Reckner said he was in Iraq when he learned that his daughter was born -- three days after the fact.

"It's tough being away from the family," Reckner told the students.

Brown said his real age wasn't discovered in boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois until after he heeded his mother's request that he attend church and signed his correct birth date to papers that were only recently rediscovered by family members.

"I begged my parents to get in," Brown said.

And he was nearly kicked out.

"I went to the disciplinary office five times, five weeks," Brown recalled.

The day before his fifth trip, they kicked a 16-year-old out for being underage, Brown said.

"When I went back to the disciplinary office, the disciplinary officer greeted me -- I was getting to know him pretty well by then," Brown said.

"He said, 'Well, this is the final day' and I thought, 'This is it, I'll be kicked out,'" Brown said.

Yet, the conversation continued and after waiting to hear what he thought was inevitable, Brown won a reprieve.

"Finally, he says we're going to keep ya' on one condition -- you don't go overseas until you're 17,'" Brown recalled.

But even that condition proved flimsy because Brown's company already had been assigned to an outgoing unit, unbeknownst to the officer, he said.

And on the horizon, Brown's part in D-Day -- the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 -- awaited him.

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