Mother and son share their experiences as Marines with students
By Kate York, Special to The News
POSTED: November 11, 2008

BEVERLY - A mother and son duo put a new face on the term "veterans" for a group of Beverly-Center Elementary students who have been learning all the nuances of that word.

Josh and Karen Richter of Waterford, who have both served in the U.S. Marine Corps, spoke to the school's sixth-graders Monday, sharing their experiences and listening as students read their essays on veteran appreciation.

"It was a little different, because the veterans we usually see are older people, like our grandparents," said Graysan Thieman, 12. "They looked like everyday people who you might see at Wal-Mart. And a lot of people don't recognize female veterans. It was really cool that they came to talk to us. What they had to say was amazing."

A day before Veterans Day, the Richters answered students' questions about weapons, helicopters, uniforms and boot camp and shared how they should feel lucky to be in school.

"There are kids in other parts of the world who would love to go to school but can't," said Karen Richter, a Marine from 1983 to 1989. "These are the things that Josh and other servicemen fight for. They've fought for you guys to have the right to come to school."

The classes got to hear about the fun aspects of being a Marine, including, for Josh Richter, learning to fly a helicopter and working with missiles sometimes as large as 106 pounds, built to destroy tanks.

"It's amazing what the helicopters can do," he said. "The doors are open, you're flying 250 feet in the air and it tilts on its side and all that's holding you in is a belt. You're hanging out there... if you like roller coasters you'd like helicopters."

Both veterans said their time as Marines has been one of the highlights of their lives and taught them to be respectful, trustworthy people.

"It's a great experience," said Josh Richter, 22, who served for four years, including a tour in Iraq. "No matter how bad a day it is and how hard things get, you wake up the next day and love it all over again."

Not everyone can be a doctor or a lawyer and not everyone can be a soldier, said Karen Richter.

"Leaving home, knowing it's possibly the last time, is very hard," she said. "But the best part of being a Marine was serving my country and doing something personal to safeguard my family and way of life."

The students who heard the Richters speak, and shared cupcakes with them celebrating the Marine Corps' 233th birthday, have been learning about the value of America's veterans in class and are working on cards for soldiers overseas.

"They've put in a lot of time and effort and sincere thoughts," said sixth-grade teacher Ericka Schneider. "For (them) to actually talk to them here, ask questions and learn about the freedoms veterans fight for every day is really important. They can go away from it and educate others."

The students learned the impact of the letters and cards students send overseas.

Josh Richter said he saw "a ton" of them while in Iraq and that it made the soldiers' day each time.

"When you're sitting there and instead of a care package you get a brown paper bag and can spend hours going through the cards and letters from children, it's a great thing," he said. "For them to understand what we do makes it worth it without a question."

Sixth-grader Sarah Duffey said she's learned that even small, everyday freedoms and choices are given to her because of generations of brave veterans.

"It's like they're standing on the edge of a cliff in front of everyone in America... never knowing if they will fall," said Duffey, one of two sixth-grade winners of a veterans essay contest. "Without our brave veterans, this just wouldn't be America."

Fellow winner Regina Newsad said she wants her peers to have immense gratitude for veterans every day, not just on Veterans Day.

"They go through all the traumatic things that happen in a war," she said. "I hope our generation is as brave."

Ellie