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Bridging the Generational Gap: From Veterans to Youth

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  • Sara Gardner
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Sara Gardner is a 16-year-old senior at Fayetteville High School where she is vice president of her class, broadcast TV producer and debate captain. She is a state 4-H officer and state president of the Children of the American Revolution. She enjoys volunteering for veterans and has her own community service platform entitled pledgetopatriotism.

Sara Gardner Bridging the Generational Gap

Image courtesy of Jo Johnson Photography

How do you connect with people from other generations? Veterans have built and protected our nation but, because we're still in high school, students don't always encounter these American heroes in our daily lives. I'm Sara Gardner, a senior at Fayetteville High School, and I truly believe that we must promote and nurture patriotic engagement in our country. However, a lack of meaningful interaction between generations is clearly evident. To address this issue, youth engagement with veterans is essential and helps ensure a lasting appreciation for the sacrifices these men and women have made for the freedom of the United States of America. I have learned this firsthand.

Youth engagement with veterans is essential to ensure a lasting appreciation for the sacrifices these men and women have made for the freedom of our great nation, the United States of America, and I have learned this firsthand.

I am inspired by the words of President Ronald Reagan, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." To reach the next generation, my generation, it is imperative that a thorough understanding of our nation's history is instilled.  Hearing veterans' stories is one impactful way that can be accomplished.

Bridging the Generational Gap Sara Gardner and Derl Horn

Sara Gardner Bridging the Generational Gap National Cemetery

Yet, because so many young people are not connecting with those who served, I believe that my generation's understanding of freedom is at risk. Receiving the knowledge that our veterans can pass on is essential. I believe that this knowledge is vital to ensure prosperity and to allow the United States to prevail as what I believe is the greatest nation in the world.

For this knowledge to be passed on, it is up to young people like me to bridge the gap of understanding and provide a greater assurance that the legacy of our Veterans is carried on. We must bridge this gap so that future generations may know that freedom is not free. Rather, it was paid at the price of countless American veterans who sacrificed their lives so we may enjoy America as we know it. I am eternally grateful for each and every single one of these heroes. Their sacrifices are all the more vivid for me because I have been privileged to meet many U.S. armed forces members who served alongside them.

In the words of Derl Horn, a Vietnam War veteran, "Build bridges of friendship between generations by expressing kindness, encouragement and respect as we humbly listen and value different opinions.  Our youth have opportunity to learn from veterans' many varied experiences. In the same way, veterans may learn and benefit from the younger generation's enthusiasm and vision." Mr. Derl's words are a genuine reflection of his actions. He is an active volunteer at the Veterans Healthcare System of the Ozarks and recently received the Patriot of the Year award at the Purple Heart Ceremony. Volunteering with Mr. Derl has been a joyful experience, and each day with him is one I cherish forever. Last year, I coordinated a Veterans Day Assembly at my high school, and Mr. Derl was our incredible keynote speaker. I loved looking up to the podium and seeing Mr. Derl, a man who has been a significant role model in my life, speaking with earnest eyes and words of truth as he shared his story with my school. He even wrote a book called "Blood, Sweat, and Honor" to share his experiences. His wisdom, passion, and experiences continuously inspire others. I am grateful for Mr. Derl, one of my favorite American heroes.

Through the influence of Mr. Derl and many others, I have learned to work towards unity between generations by thanking veterans for their service. This is a great way to begin meaningful conversations. I remember approaching a World War II Veteran to tell him, "Thank you," and this simple act transformed into a two-hour conversation during which he shared his life story with me. It is in moments like these that the gap is bridged. It is in moments like these that my heart seems to freeze, awed by the heroism and dedication of my predecessors, those who have gone before me to create the America that I love.

Furthermore, volunteering for veterans is a very effective way to bridge the gap. Throughout the past nine years, I have fallen in love with volunteering for veterans. For any other high school students who would like to get involved, various service opportunities are available for you to get involved and engage with veterans in your area. Volunteer programs exist through Veterans Administration facilities and youth programs such as 4-H, Rotary Interact, church, and Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Teens can escort patients at veterans hospitals, perform at veterans homes and help place flags on graves at Arkansas's national cemeteries. Some of my favorite ways to serve are singing Christmas songs, passing out quilts, and making cards for local Veterans. Last year, I helped set a Guinness World Record with the Daughters of the American Revolution for the most letters (100,904) sent to military in one month. Volunteering opens doors to engage with veterans and hear their stories firsthand.

To bridge the generational gap, it is also vital to provide veterans with outlets to share their stories. As youth, we can simply sit down and listen to those who have gone before us. We can participate in programs, such as the "Veterans History Project" through the Library of Congress, to interview veterans and ensure the preservation of their stories. This is something I have truly enjoyed, and it is rewarding to know the lasting impact of giving your time. Volunteer work like this makes an impact helps ensure that our veterans' stories are never forgotten.

It is up to young people to carry on our veterans' legacy. The biggest step in bridging the generational gap is to show veterans that we care. We appreciate their sacrifice. We yearn to hear their stories. We are grateful for a nation with liberty and justice for all. Veterans will know that they will never be forgotten when we show that we care for them. Our taking the initiative to bridge the generational gap is crucial to preserve their legacies.


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