Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mr. Len, Our Favorite Classroom Visitor

Mr. Len describing his medals with well-earned pride.
 (He refused a Purple Heart, claiming that others' injuries were far worse than his.)
Maxing out use of the map by showing all the places he had been. 
Mr. Len and his wife Ms. Betty (as the kids affectionately called them, including my son) were always welcomed visitors in my classroom. Mr. Len and his wife were first invited to share their experiences about WWII--his from the naval warfront, and hers from the homefront. Needless to say, their marriage of more than 72 years was a sure bet they could finish each other's sentences and thoughts with a certain element of flair. It also made for some good entertainment when Ms. Betty would give Mr. Len a quick jab to the ribs and say, "Now, Leonard, that wasn't what REALLY happened..."
Using new technology to relive old emotions and experiences. 
He shared many details about life in the Navy, from those intense firsthand Pearl Harbor experiences in Japan, to life on a minesweeper. His mind was quick--one year we surprised him by pulling up and projecting photos of his ship from different angles, and he was so excited! The way he stared at the photos, you could tell the memories were swirling. He began pointing at all the different places on the ship and telling us who did what, what the different equipment was used for, where he used to stand, etc. Some say I'm a sap, but I had tears in my eyes to see him so animated recalling those details.  He held many many positions, including a school principal and ham operator, and with a twinkle in his eye, he would ask me each year whether I'd been promoted yet. He feigned disappointment at my perpetual stay in a single grade level.
Adding his firsthand account to news of Pearl Harbor. 
Mr. Len was quite a catch! Even after 72 years, their love for
each other was more than evident.
His sense of humor was at once rich and dry, and he loved when the kids asked questions, were awed by his many service medals, and admired his uniform. Before that first year of his visits, he told me he'd never been asked to talk about his service, and he thanked me many times for the opportunity. He felt a sense of relief, I think, that kids were interested in what he'd done and what he had to say; and the staff embraced him, too. It was such an honor to have them both come visit. We missed him dearly this year as he battled with health issues.

Mr. Len's service ribbons. His uniform still fit!

The kids were in awe of his medals--they'd never seen anything like them!

On a personal level, Mr. Len and his wife are my adopted grandparents and my son's adopted great-grandparents. We met years ago, and my son immediately took a liking to him and hung out with him while we were playing bingo at church one evening. For Mr. Len's 90th birthday years ago, the one "real" present he received (according to my son) (what do you need when you're 90?!) was a monster truck from him. Every time we would visit after that, Ian would bring his truck and Len would get down on the floor and play with him--my son's favorite memory of him.

When asked how he planned to celebrate his 70th anniversary with Betty, he quipped that he was going to take it easy, and hold out for the "big one" (75th), and if I replied positively to his inquiry of whether I was behaving myself, he'd give me a heck of an upbraiding. Methinks he was secretly a gossip hound. ;) And at that age, why not?!

My favorite memory would have to be that twinkle in his eye and how it embodied the essence of "him". Fun-loving, rarely a complaint despite his many health problems in his final months, and his knack for living a good life. Inspirational to the core.

In memory of Mr. Len and in honor of his wife, please talk to a veteran, and thank them for their service. From Mr. Len's reactions, it meant the world to him to be able to share memories that undoubtedly surfaced in some form or another on a daily basis. The simple act of connection and reconnection with others and with facts/ memories can be potent in its comfort.

Mr. Len, thanks for your life and all that you did for others. How you lived your life was definitely your gift to the world.
Mr. Len and Ms. Betty upon his return from a WWII Flight of Honor.

A picture from their first visit to my classroom.

Photo from another visit, just a few of the very many minds they opened. 
My son (R) and his friend with Len and Betty in front
of the Christmas tree laden with Ms. Betty's handmade
Chrismon decorations. Christmas 2012.


  1. What a touching tribute to such a special friend, Wendi.

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful tribute to my father!

    1. You're welcome. He lives on in our hearts and minds!!

  3. Thank you very much Ms. Wendi! I love to see how my Grandfather touched so many young lives! He will truely be missed by so many!!