By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Assemblyman Bill Colton got the idea when he attended a Career Day event at PS 226 in Bensonhurst. One of the speakers was a military veteran who talked to the students about his experiences. Colton saw how enraptured the kids were with the veteran’s speech and how much they learned from someone who had seen war first-hand. The event gave the lawmaker the idea to make appearances by veterans a regular part of the school year for youngsters all over the state.
What started out as an idea in Colton’s head is now a state law. Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into a bill Colton (D-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) sponsored to mandate that the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs develop a veteran speaker educational program for schools.
As part of this educational program, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is now required to establish and distribute a list of veterans who are willing to volunteer to visit schools, and speak about their experiences in the military to students. In addition, the agency will also be required to issue pamphlets to school districts which describe the veteran speaker program with a general overview, as well as the names and contact information of local veterans who are available to visit schools.
In essence, the agency will have to create speaker’s bureau with a roster of veterans.
“These men and women established a remarkable record of service and sacrifice. They were ordinary individuals who did extraordinary things to preserve and protect our nation and its cherished freedoms,” Colton said.
The new law is particularly significant at this point in time, according to Colton, because members of the Greatest Generation, as former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw called those who fought in World War II, are dying off.
It’s important for children to hear first hand accounts of the war, Colton said. “Their personal accounts, which constitute a valuable historical record, are in danger of being lost forever as these individuals pass away. It is therefore appropriate to take steps to help encourage greater knowledge and appreciation of veterans, particularly in our schools,” he said.
The development of this program and the listing of available veterans will be created with the assistance of local veterans’ organizations, as well as the help of the different branches of the U.S. military.
But while the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is required to get the ball rolling by providing schools with lists of veterans willing to speak, the schools are not require to take part in the program. It is being done strictly on a volunteer basis.
Educators will be responsible for contacting local veterans after receiving the pamphlet with the information and available veterans listing from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Still, Colton said he hopes schools take advantage of the veterans’ speakers program.
“The defining moments of our nation's history came in wartime, especially during the great conflicts of the 20th Century. It is important that all of society, and particularly young people, be aware of the contributions of the men and women who participated in these conflicts as members of the armed forces,” he said.