By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
PARKVILLE — We all know the feeling of being unappreciated. But most of us have not risked our lives in the military, serving the country we live in, and then returned home to be ignored or worse. There are television commercials encouraging viewers to “Thank a Vet,” but how many do?
Bill Freund, seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher at St. Therese School in Parkville, has been encouraging his students to thank and honor veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, on land, on the ocean or in the air. Over 24 years, his students have written countless letters and cards to veterans, participated in Veterans Day services at St. Therese, written essays for the VFW Essay Contest and, more recently, attended Honor Flight receptions at Kansas City International Airport greeting veterans returning from one-day Heartland Honor Flights to visit the WW II, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials in Washington, D.C.
This Veterans Day, Freund’s students wanted to thank him for getting them excited to meet and express their gratitude to veterans. Working with room parents and other teachers, the kids and their parents raised $950 to send Freund to Washington D.C., on the Spring 2015 Heartland Honor Flight.
Luke Hupke told the Catholic Key that the students all appreciated that “Mr. Freund is so dedicated to honoring the veterans who gave us all the rights we enjoy.” Classmate Katie Taylor said “he goes round talking all about veterans, and what they did.”
Kyle Taylor said, “Mr. Freund always encourages us to go to the Honor Flight Reception. We enjoy going and we get to see the veterans’ reactions as they come through the gate into the airport and see us.”
A special assembly was held Nov. 7 in the school’s Good Shepherd Hall to honor Freund and present him with the check. John Doole, president of Heartland Honor Flight, came and brought George Dailey, Sr., a World War II army veteran and Charles Eagan, a Vietnam War Marine veteran, to the assembly.
When Freund was called to the front of the hall, he still didn’t know what was up. Other things on the agenda had come first, including a presentation of middle school girls singing, “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” from the upcoming middle school musical, Annie Jr.
Freund approached the front of the hall wearing a quizzical smile. He was quickly joined by the seventh and eighth graders. The quizzical smile rapidly turned to one of surprise and pleasure as Luke and Kyle presented him with the check for $950 and explained that it would pay his airfare as a “Guardian,” accompanying a veteran, on the next Heartland Honor Flight. When Doole assured the students that Freund was confirmed on the flight May 2015, there was loud applause.
Luke later said, “We’d get all excited to see and meet the veterans (at the reception), we’d forget about school, homework and even sleep. Sometimes it would be very late when the flight landed.”
Hannah Knight added, “It’s crazy. Mr. Freund gets us all started thinking about what veterans have done for us and what we could do for them.”
This was something the students could do to thank Freund for what he does for military veterans.
The funds collected by the seventh and eighth graders covered Freund’s airfare, but they ran short on some other expenses of the trip. Fox 4 was contacted with the problem and Kathy Quinn arrived to help the students Pay it Forward. She counted aloud, “One Hundred, Two Hundred, Three Hundred!” which will be used to cover expenses for a veteran to go on the Heartland Honor Flight next spring.
Quinn asked Freund, “What is it about veterans?”
His answer was immediate. “Their selfless sacrifice so we could enjoy the privileges of living in this country. We should all appreciate them and everything they’ve done for this nation and for us.”
“I’ve got tears in my eyes,” Quinn told the Key.
Freund said he encourages his students to participate in service activities and assemblies to honor and thank veterans, especially since Sept. 11, 2001. “I wasn’t military, but my son is. He’s in army intelligence, serving in Fort Huachuca in Ariz. We’re going to visit him over Thanksgiving, see my first granddaughter! ”
A group hug gathered together all the St. Therese students who had attended the Heartland Honor Flight reception, Bill Freund, the two visiting veterans and Doole.
Dailey and Eagan were introduced.
Dailey, 98½, was born on a farm near Princeton, Ark., in 1916. “If I didn’t join the army I wouldn’t have gotten off the farm,” he said, “and enjoyed so many things.” He served in both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II. Following the defeat of Germany in May, 1945, he was shipped to Okinawa to continue fighting in Japan. Dailey proudly stated he saw both VE (Victory in Europe) Day, May 8, 1945, in Europe and VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, Sept. 2, 1945, on the island of Okinawa.
He recalled the end of the war, “They signed the treaty (the Japanese Instrument of Surrender) in September, 1945. It took me 3 months to get out of the army and home to Kansas City. I got off the train at Union Station. It was getting close to midnight Dec. 24, 1945. But I was home for Christmas.” After the war, he worked from 1946 – 1976 for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, now the Union Pacific. Dailey is married and has two grown children.
Eagan joined the Marine Corps in 1965 and decided to make the Marine Corps his career. He served in Vietnam, and later at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, California; Air Station El Toro, California; Okinawa, Japan, and (his favorite) three years in Hawaii. He served the last years of his military service as a legal advisor at Fort Leavenworth. He said that the inmates serving in the military prison are very like inmates in the federal prisons. He emphatically stated that a veteran in a military prison should be treated the same as a federal prisoner. “They made mistakes, and they’re paying for that mistake. When they are done, let them go and restart their lives,” he said. “There but for the grace of God … .” All told, Eagan served 28 years in the Marine Corps, 1965 – 1993. He is married and a father.
Both veterans are proud of their service to their country. They wore t-shirts that stated across the back, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a veteran.” They were delighted to meet Freund and happy to share their stories.
Dailey recounted his Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C., well, not the trip itself but the reception when the plane arrived back at Kansas City International Airport.
“It was so special,” he said. “We got off the Honor Flight at KCI and as I was walking, I heard my name called. A little child, no more than 4 or 5, was standing with his momma and daddy. He looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ It blew my mind!”
Dailey and Eagan agreed that one of the most important things in a soldier’s life, both during service and after, is mail. Dailey recalled a mail call one day in his platoon. Most of the soldiers received mail, but one soldier’s name was not called. He was sad and couldn’t understand how the others all got mail and he didn’t. He turned to Dailey and asked why he had received so much mail. Dailey said to him, “Do you write letters to anybody?” “Sometimes,” was the reply. “Well, you gotta write letters to get letters!”
Then Dailey relented. Some of the mail he received was from pen pals, and he offered to let the other soldier read them so he wouldn’t feel left out and alone.
“Even now,” he said,” I love getting letters.” He recently received a big envelope filled with letters from high school and grade school students, and was overwhelmed.
“There were more than 50 letters in the envelope. I read them until I was tired and went to bed. Then I got up the next morning and went back to reading my letters. They were beautiful!”
As the assembly closed, many students, teachers and parents lingered to meet and thank Dailey and Eagan. Dailey shooed them off, calling “Congratulations to you all! I love you all, you are so special!”
Bill Freund will be taking off for Washington D.C., early on a May morning, and will return late that night.
Any bets on whether or not his students are there at the airport to welcome him back?