BERLIN – “Kids should honor veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS) eighth grader Hunter Cox, after an assembly where his 91-year-old grandfather Austin Cox, Sr., a decorated World War II Veteran of the 29th Infantry Division, addressed students on Veteran’s Day.
Cox added, “Without the service of our veterans, we wouldn’t have the American Flag or our freedom.”
Cox was invited to speak to students on Veteran’s Day in conjunction with Stephen Decatur Middle School’s yearlong Service Learning theme, which cultivates patriotism by gaining knowledge of and appreciation for military service. Service learning, a requirement for students in grades 6 through 9, links academic learning with student service that benefits the community. Middle schools are encouraged to select a theme each year, weaving a common thread between the students’ service learning activities.
In addition to the Veteran’s Day assembly, students at SDMS will collect toiletries and soldier wish-list items to send to troops as part of the Shoebox for Soldiers program. In music class, students learn patriotic songs and perform them throughout the community, including at the Worcester County Adult Medical Day Services for senior citizens, many of whom are veterans. In gym class, students use a boot camp theme for physical fitness activities. Art class contributes to the theme by having students create patriotic decorations for Service Learning events and programs. In addition, a USO-themed community dinner dance will be held in February at the school, with the jazz band providing the music and students working as meal servers.
“Our service learning theme is supported throughout our school, as well as by our community,” said Service Learning Co-chair and teacher Mindy Bankert. “Our students are gaining civic appreciation for those who have served and are serving in the military. We think this is an important, patriotic message for our students.”
Veteran Cox joined the Army in 1939. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and with the United States’ entry into World War II, Cox and approximately 160,000 soldiers helped to end the war by participating in the largest amphibious invasion on a 50-mile stretch of beach on the Normandy Coast of France. Cox, a Platoon Sergeant with the 29th Division, landed on the Omaha Beach on D-Day in June 6, 1944.
“We lost so many men,” said Cox. “We knew we either had to take that land or go back into the English Channel.”
Despite extremely challenging circumstances, the infantry forged forward and prevailed.
For Cox’s combat service, he was awarded with the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB).
“In all my 90 years, and of all the medals I have won, I am the most proud of the CIB and what it represents and symbolizes,” he said.
As a surprise, Cox presented a replica of the CIB to his grandson, Hunter, during the assembly.
SDMS eighth grader Munya Sbeih was moved by the presentation of the CIB replica pin to her classmate.
“I was speechless,” she said. “It was so special that he [Veteran Cox] passed it down from one generation to the next.”