What you can't learn in a classroom

  • Published
  • By Miranda Winn-Poff
  • Special contributor to the 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Today was the day my oldest son, Phil, turned 7. I remember turning 7 very well -- it was the age I was finally allowed to have a Barbie! It was also the year I lost one of my best friends. It was a big year!

But, today, Phil learned a little about the world around him, and I watched a bit of his innocence die as I described to him what he was seeing.

This made me realize he's growing up, he understands much more than I could imagine, and I would do anything to make sure he always knows the truth about the men and women who serve our country.

We took the boys to the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., today, and they had lots of fun. Of course, the hands-on parts were the best, but we also took them through the "America at War" display, where they walked among relics and photos of war. As my husband, Brent, and my sons' grandfather pointed out various things, they learned about how children not much older than them would collect scrap metal during World War II.

They marveled at a Huey helicopter, learning the main job for this machine was not only to bring men into combat, but to take them out -- no matter what. They looked at a piece of the Berlin wall, which I remember coming down. I tried to explain why there was a wall in the first place and the joy of watching it crumble.

Then we walked around the corner, and I saw for the first time the World Trade Center. I could reach out and touch it -- and as I did, felt the horror of what happened. I had to take my hand off because it was almost hot. As I stared at a mangled piece of metal once part of the 70th floor of Tower 2, my oldest looked at me and pointed to a picture saying, "What happened?" It was a picture we all know, burned in our memories forever. It portrayed the exact moment of impact of the second plane ... with fire and buildings and what I can only imagine as hell.

I saw this image reflected in the eyes of my baby -- my son, who very quickly became a boy.

I told him that cruel people took four planes and used them as weapons, two of which hit these buildings, and one that hit the Pentagon.

The other went down, missing the target because of heroes. He asked if the buildings could be rebuilt. I told him no, but that we are building something to remember them. I told him the Pentagon has been fixed, but there is a permanent scar in the earth where grass has grown over.

He asked me if people were hurt. I said yes, and that people died, but some did survive and get out in time. He then asked why bad people did this. I didn't have an answer. How do you respond to a child? I told him this act is why we are at war, and why we can't lose, and that good people are doing something about it.

"People like Daddy?" he asked. With tears in my eyes, I said yes. It hit me that even though my husband wears the same uniform that others wear and drives to an office, he is involved in this war. I looked up and saw a young man standing next to us with tears in his eyes.

"Thank you," he said, and then looked away. I wondered why he'd said thank you. For Brent's service to our nation? For standing there with him in awe at the metal? For telling a child about what and why we are at war?

I have given birth to all of my sons in a time of war, and was just now telling them about it. I feel bad about this--there are men and women currently dying, hurting, crying, and serving, and I owe them more than this. I know they are young, but some things need to be told. There are members of the greatest generation passing away and no one notices.

My sons need to hear and know the names like Doolittle, Easy Company, Hal Moore, Etchberger, J. Cunningham, and S. Giunta, but also the ones of those currently serving. These are the heroes of our country. These are people to look up to, and tell children stories about.

I looked around the room, and saw a few uniforms that had been worn by other active duty members. One had been cut away from a young man's body -- it's the same one that Brent wears, only this one is torn and there are stains on it. It took my breath away. My son, Phil, hugged me as my tears welled up.

I was thinking about what we as a country have been through in the last nine years ... and it hit me hard. I was standing there staring at the single moment that has caused me more fear, anger and hate, but at the same time, the most patriotic feelings in my lifetime. And as Phil hugged me he said, "Mom, it's OK ... we will fix it."

He is wiser beyond his seven years, and in the 10 minutes we spent in that room, he learned something more than any classroom could teach.

He saw what humans do to each other, bad and good. But in the end, he still believes with all of his heart that there is more good, and I saw a glimpse of the man that he will become.