- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

Listening to former prisoners of war and the wartime experiences of U.S. veterans, American teens are learning about patriotism, accountability and leadership.
For Alicia Moreno, a high school student from Dallas, her interaction with her elders led to a better understanding of her heritage and the sacrifices men and women have made to maintain it.
"We learn about these events in our history books, but to be able to actually interact with these men was truly amazing," said Alicia, who last year was one of thousands of high school students to attend Youth Leadership Conferences.
Since its inception 15 years ago, the conferences hosted by the Alexandria-based Military Order of the World Wars have sought to help develop better citizens.
"We want this country to endure," said retired Army Brig. Gen. Jack Nicholson, the director of Military Order of the World Wars. The patriotic, nonpartisan, nondenominational organization believes it is nobler to serve than to be served.
"This program is about giving children the same opportunities we had. The opportunity to raise their own children with the freedom of mind that they will not be unfairly crushed by economic or political threats of foreign invasion."
Why America is free and how to keep it free are among the topics discussed at the conferences held in 12 cities nationwide.
The teens are also taught that patriotism is a virtue needed to ensure the continuing independence of the most successful republic in the history of mankind. Without it comes the danger to dissolve from within.
The program has been a hit among high school students, who have written in letters of appreciation that the conference inspired them to become better citizens and encouraged them to fight for and protect the country's freedom.
"I now realize that a military life with a job of selfless service will allow me to fully expand my patriotic feelings." said Brett Meugniot, a high school student from Fort Worth, Texas. "Because of the conference, I found out my true calling to join the armed forces."
The organization and its conferences have received an endorsement from President Bush, who last fall said the country needs more programs that instill patriotism in young Americans.
"Our young people need to appreciate the meaning of our founding documents. They must be confident in the words of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and they should know why 25 million living veterans were willing to give the last full measure of devotion to preserve our American way of life," Mr. Bush said in a written statement sent to the organization.
The program started in 1987 when officials noticed a lack of patriotism among American youth. About 200 students attended the program's first leadership conference that year.
"There was an erosion of civics in the classroom," Gen. Nicholson said. "Schools weren't teaching about citizenship or responsibility anymore. We needed to do something."
Since then, the program has flourished. Today, more than 15,000 high school students from across the country participate in the program each year. The programs run three to five days.
Volunteers from the Military Order run the program. War veterans, businessmen and women, civic leaders, law enforcement officials are among those who teach the students about the history of the country and the nation's founding documents. Students also learn about the history of the American flag.
"You instill patriotism by example," Gen. Nicholson said. "Each of these speakers had enough guts to put their fortune, their honor and their lives on the line so this nation could be free."
So far this year, guest speakers have included Jim Kimsey, founder and chairman emeritus of America Online (AOL); Col. Fritz Kraemer, strategist and former adviser to several presidents; Balint Vazsonyi, author and concert pianist; and retired Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, a World War II veteran who parachuted behind Nazi lines in 1943 to help the French resistance fighters.


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