In the spring of 2011, a class project for the nephew of Lennis France, Chaplin of VVA Chapter 979 Kingsport, Tennessee; started a school program that still exists today. Lennis’ nephew was a student at Hiltons Elementary School in Hiltons, Virginia. His nephew was receiving poor grades, so a suggestion from a teacher of the class project to improve them was made. Alex approached his uncle, Lennis, with the idea of bringing him to school to speak with the students about Veterans. Since that initial school visit in 2011, the program has grown to reach more than twenty-two public schools, one private school and four colleges. To date, approximately 50,000 students have attended this program started in a small elementary school in Virginia. The program has expanded to Northeast Tennessee and further into South West Virginia: it is presented to students from kindergarten through to the college level. The talks our Veterans give vary in presentation with the ages of the students. With the kindergarteners they discuss the American Flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, explain what the colors on the flag represent, and discuss the meaning of the thirteen folds on the flag when placed on a veteran’s burial casket. Four ROTC programs are included in the realm of groups spoken to and the program has also the program has been presented to the Jonesboro Tennessee Heritage Museum, the Church Hill Tennessee Senior Citizens Center, The Museum of Middle Appalachia at Saltville Virginia, and Daughters of the American Revolution in Richlands Virginia. No distance from Kingsport has prevented the school team from presenting this program. The team has traveled up to one hundred miles and from as far away as Roan Mountain, Tennessee to Lee County, Virginia to accommodate the students. What started as just two or three Vietnam Veterans has grown into eight to twelve veterans now presenting the program covering the Air Force, Navy (both Blue and Brown Water), and the Army (including Infantry, Artillery, Armored Track Commander, Transportation, and one Green Beret). Each speaker talks to the students and tells of their experiences and daily life in Vietnam. The program is free to any school or organization for the asking. Videos prepared by Sam Vanzant, an Air Force Viet Nam Veteran, introduce each speaker and include a recent photograph and a photograph from their tour of duty in Viet Nam for comparison. The videos are a very important part of the program and are set to music from the 60’s and 70’s. Also, maps of Vietnam, photos of F-4 phantoms, B-52 bombers, and photos depicting the daily lives of the Veterans are very well received. At the beginning of each program, John Pollak, President of Chapter 979, presents the principal or school administrator a Chapter 979 exclusive challenge coin with the School name and date engraved on it. On many occasions the team has been invited to do a one and a half hour program, but were asked to spend the entire day with more students. Many articles about the program have been written and published in the newspapers and the news media has been present to tape our program. The team has received many letters of appreciation from the schools and donations to further the program.
If you would like more information or to schedule a visit, please contact Melvin “Moe” Baines at 423-753-2435.