- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) - After 22 years of taking on the monumental task of connecting hundreds of students with military veterans twice a year, Steve Quesinberry’s enthusiasm might understandably lessen - if it weren’t for students like Rachel Woods.

“We’re getting to see a piece of history, and holy cow, that’s amazing!” Woods said as she checked out displays and spoke to veterans about their experiences at the Newnan Armory Friday.

It was the second of two Student-Vet Connect events sponsored by the Newnan High School history department each year. Quesinberry, the department chairman, said the responses of many of the 700-800 students to the more than 60 veterans who took part in the event make it worth continuing, even when organizing threatens to overwhelm department staff.

“Some of the kids were just so thankful for the experience,” he said. “They came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you.’ I’ve had these kids for 18 weeks, and for some of them, this is the first time history has really meant something to them.”

For Woods, a sophomore at NHS, seeking out World War II veterans has become particularly urgent.

“I’m interested in all of them, but I’m trying to talk to as many from World War II as possible because I’m trying to hear their stories and get the history while I can,” she said. “We learn about it, and then we get to actually meet the people, and that’s something I can pass down someday when they’re not here any more.”

French Legion of Honour Medal recipient Grover McMichael is one World War II veteran who is happy to oblige.

“I enjoy young people,” the 94-year-old said from his seat behind a table holding war memorabilia, including a model aircraft carrier and his cherished medal, which he received in 2015 for his wartime efforts in France. “Some of them want to know about World War II, and I’m happy to tell them what I know.”

Carol Yates, who was a Navy Nurse Corps officer in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, left behind a husband and two children when she headed to the tiny island of Bahrain to serve in a mobile hospital. At that time, it was unusual for a wife and mother to be deployed and away from her family.

“I served in a traditional role in the military,” said Yates, who was a nurse by profession and Navy Reservist by choice when she was deployed. “I talk a lot with students about how women have a much more diverse role in the military today.”

Yates came from a family where military service was expected, and she said she joined up to see the world.

Instead, “I got sent to Philadelphia,” she said. “It’s not exactly what I had in mind. So when I was deployed, I was happy to ship off to the Gulf instead of being stationed somewhere like Charleston.”

As for her traditional role in the military, much has changed not only in the military but also for Yates herself. She now serves as the junior vice commander for VFW Post 5255 and in the same role for VFW District 3. Her husband, whom she met while both were in the Navy, never served in-country, so he is not eligible for full membership in the VFW.

“He’s a member of the auxiliary,” Yates said.

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