SCHERERVILLE | Forest Ridge second-graders A.J. Betustak and Ashtyn Payne weren't born during the Vietnam War era, and didn't know much about our nation's veterans.
That's until their teachers Michelle Frantal and Kristy Sliger created an assignment to acquaint youngsters with real-life heroes, many of whom were in their own families.
Frantal said the 29 second-graders at Forest Ridge dedicated the school year toward a community service project for veterans. First, the youngsters participated in a schoolwide recycling program, entitled Dream Machine Recycle Rally.
The program, sponsored by Waste Management and PepsiCo, uses the recycling and donates money to the Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Disabled Veterans.
Secondly, the students have been learning more about veterans and their service to the United States. Students were asked to interview a veteran whom they know, learning about the vet's service, age at enlistment and duties while serving.
The youngsters had a chance to introduce their "special vet" to students and staff Monday, putting on a program, singing songs and joining in refreshments.
Joe Betustak, 69, of Hammond, who served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968, said the program brought him and other veterans to tears.
"It took many years for Vietnam veterans to be recognized for their service and it's a beautiful thing," he said. "I brought my jacket in and I'm going to give it to my grandson A.J. His dad, who was my son, was a Hammond policeman who died of cancer. This ceremony means a lot to me."
Leonard Jones, 63, of Gary, smiled when his granddaughter, Ashtyn Payne, handed him a carnation, cup and big hug.
"The kids' performance was nice," Jones said. "During our era, we didn't get much recognition. There are so many people who have come out of Iraq and Iran, to get this recognition now shows vets how much they are appreciated for serving our country. Some lost a limb, lost their eyesight and lost their lives."
Ashtyn said she's learned a lot about veterans since the beginning of the school year, including "vets had to fight people who didn't respect our country."