8th Graders Learn Unforgettable Memorial Day Lesson

He wiped away tears and took moments to gather himself before continuing with his talk to the students. Many of the eighth graders came away with tears in their eyes and a new found appreciation and realization of what Memorial Day means.

Roush's son, Cpl. Nicholas Ryan Roush, died Aug. 16, 2009, while on a mission in Afghanistan. He was 22 years old and was a graduate of Thornapple Kellogg Schools, having had many of the same teachers as the eighth graders. His vehicle was hit by an explosive device, throwing the vehicle 20 feet in the air and flipping it over.  Nicholas was trapped beneath the vehicle.

"The team had reliable intel. They knew they would be attacked. They knew the possible outcome," said Roush.

Roush reminded students Memorial Day is different than Veteran's Day. Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor the men and women who gave their lives in the line of duty for their country. Veterans Day is a day to recognize all veterans who have served.

"Don't let his sacrifice for freedom be in vain. Go out and do something great today. Do it now," he told the middle school students.

He shared how his son worked hard through school, then finished two years of college before deciding to join the U.S. Army. He tried to get into special operations, but an injury forced him out. But he tried again and was successful his second time.

"Nick never accepted defeat and neither should you," said Bob Roush. "Be something great."

He told students about his son who had "crazy red hair" and a smile everyone loved. He shared pictures of Nick working on his beloved car  he named "Monica" and how he spent hours and every cent he had to finish his show car and revealed it at his graduation open house.

"It was our first glimpse at his resolve to finish anything he started," said Bob.

The redhead with an engaging smile appeared full of life in a slideshow that marked his years from birth through the Army.  It also included photos of Nick's funeral, where people lined the streets for miles when Nicholas was brought home to Middleville.

After hearing from the Roush family, students visited Mt. Hope Cemetery in Middleville, as well as cemeteries in Rutland and Irving townships to place American flags on the grave sites of veterans for Memorial Day.

Eighth grader Dawson Hamming made his way to Roush's grave first and placed the flag there. "It just felt like an honor to do it - to put the flag on someone's grave who went to our school and had some of the same teachers we have."

Classmate Trevor VanPolen said he has a better understanding of Memorial Day now. "This is a good way to remember our veterans, otherwise you kind of forget," he said.

Middle schooler Brendon Hood also spent several minutes at Roush's grave. "It's a very good lesson. Everyone needs to do this so they really understand what Memorial Day is about.  I'm really glad Mr. Roush came to talk to us today. He's a very good guy to do this. It took a lot out of him."

"This is a very good thing our school does. It means a lot," Jade Sleet said after pausing at Roush's grave.

Eighth-grade social studies teacher Rojean Sprague has led the students in placing flags in the cemeteries before Memorial Day for several years. "It's a powerful lesson and it's something they don't forget.  I hope they'll always remember this," Sprague said.