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WWII vets give Vegas students straight answers

It was hard. It was tough. It was cold. He got yelled at a lot.

And that’s just basic training, retired Army Spc. Salvatore Cirifalco explained to Celia Roberts’ fifth-grade classroom at French Elementary School.

For the past eight Veterans Days, the school has been welcoming veterans by singing them songs, giving them a meal and listening to their stories.

More than 20 Las Vegas area veterans — including three from World War II — rotated through fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms in recognition of Veterans Day, which is Tuesday.

There was talk of the glamour of globe-trotting on the government’s dime, forging lifelong friendships, and how flying jets is just plain cool. But always in the background was the horror and high stakes of war.

“You need to know that it’s pretty rough and tough stuff,” retired Army Gen. Ashley Hall said. “What do you train for? You train to go to battle. That’s what you train for.”

Many of the veterans had been to the school for previous celebrations, said Joanna Bennett, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher who helps coordinate the program.

“I think it really gives the students a good idea of what the service is like,” Bennett said. “They get to have hands-on knowledge from different wars and they get to see it’s not as glorified as it’s made out to be sometimes.”

How do you explain war to children?

“Would you let a bully come into this class?” Cirifalco asked the room during his presentation.

“Heck no!”

“Of course not.” Cirifalco nodded.

“When you’re grounded it takes away your what?” he asked.

“Freedom!”

Roberts’ classroom heard from seven veterans. The conversations between the fifth-graders and the soldiers was candid.

What was it like?

“Well I was 18 years old. I was very scared!” said 88-year-old Milton Duran, who was a rifleman with the Army’s 417th Regiment of the 76th Infantry Division during World War II. “You have to stick it out whether you are scared or not.”

Did the Germans in World War II have nice uniforms, too?

They did, Duran said. “They were our enemies, but they were good soldiers. Don’t kid yourselves.”

One girl said she’d heard women in the service weren’t allowed to leave military bases and she’d also heard they could. She didn’t know who to believe and with an active duty officer in front of her she saw a chance to get her answer.

“I have been deployed with many a woman,” Air Force Technical Sgt. Thomas McKnight said. “Don’t push a woman around. They’re just as tough.”

“Wow.”

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes.

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