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Words of wisdom, praise from vets to Leonard kids

Zanin (click for larger version)
November 13, 2013 - "Fear is a good thing."

That was U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dave Zanin's message to Leonard Elementary fifth-graders during the school's Veterans Day celebration Friday morning.

"I want you guys to remember that as you're growing up," he said.

Zanin, an Oxford resident who recently retired from the military after a career that included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was one of approximately 40 veterans who visited Leonard.

Each one was served breakfast and interviewed by fifth-graders about their military experiences.

Zanin heard some of the kids use the word "fearless" when referring to the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

"We're not fearless, not in the least," he said.

He explained that fear is what helps soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines survive because "it keeps you alert, it keeps you attentive."

"It's that fear that keeps our attention (focused on) the details of what's going on around us," Zanin said. He noted that what servicepeople have is courage, the ability and willingness to confront fear and danger in order to perform their duty.

"We are courageous," he said. "Many of these veterans (here) have seen the loss of a lot of lives. They watched their friends perish."

Following the interviews, the veterans were honored with speeches and poetry written and recited by students.

Some of the grateful veterans chose to address the kids.

Mallia (click for larger version)
"They did a fantastic job of interviewing us," said Geno Mallia, Sr., a U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Korean War. "They made me feel pretty proud to be here."

Mallia told students someday "the baton" will be passed to them and it will be their job to defend the country against threats to security and liberty.

"I've got a grandson right now, who is in Afghanistan (serving) as a sniper," he said. "I hope everybody prays for all our folks over there because it's not a very nice place to be."

Gerber (click for larger version)
Pastor Dave Gerber, an Oxford resident who served in the Army National Guard, said his heroes are not the caped ones found in comic books; they're the veterans sitting before him.

"Some people like Batman and Superman," he said. "But you guys are my Batmans and my Supermans.

"You taught me that you can serve your country, that you can love your country and you can defend people, and their freedoms, that don't even recognize or appreciate it."

Censullo (click for larger version)
Oxford resident Fred Censullo, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy from 1971-74, noted that veterans use Veterans Day as a way to remember their comrades.

"We especially remember those friends who didn't make it home," he said. "They are the true veterans and the true heroes."

That's especially true for Lake Orion resident Joe Zikewich, a U.S. Navy veteran who fought in World War II.

He told students about how the aircraft carrier he served aboard, the U.S.S. Lexington CV-16, was attacked by a Japanese Kamikaze plane. The suicide attack killed 47 men and wounded 203 others, Zikewich said.

As he stood on the flight deck while the 47 men were being buried at sea, Zikewich vowed that when he returned home, he would make sure they would "never be forgotten."

"And to this day, I'm still doing it," said Zikewich, who's the creator of the Peacoat Monument, the part of the Orion Veterans Memorial that honors military personnel buried at sea.

Censullo noted veterans also "remember the people that came before us."

"Our fathers, our uncles, grandfathers, great grandfathers – these were the men who showed us by (their) example and by their bravery what to do when we got into the military," he said. "They are the reason that we got into the military and they taught us why (we serve) – it's to protect that flag, to protect our country, the Constitution of the United States and all of the American people."

Zanin was deeply moved by Leonard students' efforts to honor local veterans and learn more about them. He got choked up a few times and had to fight back the tears.

"Some of the things that these kids have said today, I'm astounded," he said. To Zanin, their words were "heartfelt" and "true."

"You guys did a great job at putting this together," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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