IT students volunteer at Dayton National Cemetery and VA Medical Center to honor veterans

IT students at Dayton National Cemetery.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, Butler Tech Information Technology students from the D. Russel Lee campus traveled to Dayton to work alongside local ground crews to remove debris from the Dayton National Cemetery grounds and speak with the veterans at the VA Medical Center.

“I think this is a great way to let students experience something, to and be a part of a moment and pay it forward,” says Tom Newman, Butler Tech IT instructor and veteran.

IT students surveying cemetery grounds.

Students walked through the cemetery in silence, absorbing every moment, as they swept away dried leaves, sticks and wilted flowers from grave markers so they could be decorated with flags on the holiday. Not everything on the grave sites was meant for the trash, as one student discovered, when she pulled a teddy bear from debris she found on a marker. “She looked at me and immediately said, ‘I can’t throw this away. Someone’s daughter left this here.’” explains Newman as he recalled the moment. “And that’s exactly what she did. She returned it back to the soldier’s grave.”

Rob Collins and Destiny Durbin, Fairfield High School juniors in the Butler Tech IT program, came on the trip with an additional motive in mind – to locate their grandfathers who were buried in the cemetery.

A few moments of patience with the cemetery’s site locater kiosk, Collins succeeded in finding his grandfather’s grave site. His grandfather served during the Korea conflict. “Looking for my grandpa’s grave took a long time, but it felt good finally finding him. But looking down at his grave showed me how life is not forever and that I wish I could have known him better,” says Collins.

Durbin, however, wasn’t having the same luck as Collins finding her grandfather’s name in the kiosk. Her grandfather was on active duty in World War II, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. Feeling discouraged, she continued on her search, determined to find him. “She was cleaning a grave site and happened to look up and shout, “It’s him!” explains Newman.

Destiny Durbin at her grandfather’s gravesite.

Durbin later discovered that a misspelling in her grandfather’s last name was why she had to rely on hope to find him since she couldn’t locate him in the site’s records. “After finding my great grandfather’s grave while helping to clean the cemetery, I had a feeling that seemed hard to describe. After knowing he fought in World War II and the events he witnessed, I’m very proud of him and I also hope that he (and many others) will enjoy peace,” says Durbin.

After finishing their first act of paying it forward, students continued on their way to spend time with veterans at the VA Medical Center to listen to their incredible stories from another time.

Dylan McKnight, a junior in Butler Tech’s IT program, found the trip to be more fulfilling than he anticipated. He admits, though, some things were not as he expected.

“I thought the building was going to be different, with white walls and floors. But it was nothing like that. Instead, everything was warm, inviting and comforting from the time we stepped inside,” says McKnight.

McKnight, like the rest of his classmates, held on to every word as veterans recalled memories of helping friends, running from enemy fire, the times they laughed, and the times they lost a friend.

“What veterans had to say was heavier than expected. There were a lot of stories to listen to and we were excited to listen to them,” explained McKnight, who got the opportunity to speak with a double amputee who lost his legs in an explosion. “Speaking with them make you realize how weird it is to not worry about waking up the next day and how easy it is to take life for granted.”

Students leaving from the trip did so with a newfound respect, and what some might say, an enlightened perspective for their life. Juniors from the trip have already proclaimed they will happily return to the Dayton National Cemetery and VA Medical Center next year to do it all again.