Over the weekend, my son and I went to see “Fury.” The movie is about a World War II tank crew and how they adapt to the horrors of war. Emporians who see the movie and had the privilege of knowing retired Army Sgt Ken Bradstreet will no doubt have a similar reaction to mine – picturing a man you knew and respected in that horrible situation.
For those of you who didn’t know Sgt. Bradstreet, he was the leader of a tank crew during the same time period depicted in the movie. I got to know Ken because the year before I became superintendent in Emporia, the district decided not to give students the day off on Veterans Day. This was a decision that did not sit well with this retired veteran and he was quite capable of expressing his displeasure.
Over the years, Ken and I got to be friends, and he shared his experiences: the anger of getting a refurbished tank in which the blood from the past crew had been painted over sloppily; the repulsive stench associated with rolling into the Dacha Death Camp; the choke chain dog collars used to restrain concentration camp prisoners; and worst of all, the loss of friends. Ken was always willing to share his experiences with students in Lyon County although it was obviously difficult for him. He knew that it helped kids connect the abstract idea of service with the real life horror of war.
Emporia High School’s History Department did an exceptional job of working with Ken Bradstreet to teach students respect for service. Even after Ken’s death, my youngest son was encouraged to reach out to a veteran as part of learning history. He interviewed my wife’s grandfather, who served in the Pacific Theater. His experiences were equally emotional and horrible. Man’s inhumanity to man is more than a literary concept when seen through the eyes of our veterans.
It is so important that our schools continue to help all students understand the sacrifice, courage and commitment of those who serve our country. Without that knowledge, our kids will grow up understanding neither the horror of armed conflict or the need for investing in a lifetime of support for these men and women.