Eighth Graders Learn Somber Message of Memorial Day

Bob Roush's voice broke often. He stopped for moments to compose himself as photos of his son, Nicholas, flashed across a screen before the students. Nicholas, a TK graduate class of 2005, was killed in action in Afghanistan when his Humvee was struck by an explosive device. U.S. Army Cpl. Roush, just 22 years old, was trapped under the vehicle and was killed.

Since then,  Bob and his wife Donna have shared their son's story with schools and organizations nearly every year.

"It's important we remember the sacrifices made," said Bob. "We just want the kids to know about it. If we don't educate them, they're not going to understand."

The eighth graders weren't even born when the terrorist strike on 9-11 occurred.

A few remember the very public funeral for Roush as they lined the streets in Middleville as the funeral procession made its way to Mt. Hope Cemetery.

"It was really sad," said Ebbie Appel who held a sign during the funeral procession nearly eight years ago. Hearing the Roush's speak about their son's death was emotional.

 "We know the family and it's just really sad and overwhelming. We all just need to support each other," she said.

Bob Roush said even though it's difficult to talk about Nicholas and see the photos again every year, he believes it is a message young people need to hear.

"We want to keep his memory alive. We want them to know what he did for our country and we want people to know the real meaning of Memorial Day," he said.

For many people, Memorial Day is the mark to the start of summer celebrated with family and friends, cookouts and summer fun. But there's much more to the national holiday.

Social studies teacher Rojean Sprague gave a short history of Memorial Day and explained how it differs from Veterans Day.

The first national Decoration Day, as it was originally called, was held in 1868 to honor all the Civil War veterans who died. In 1971, it became a federal holiday and the name was changed to Memorial Day. Unlike Veterans Day that honors all men and women who have served in all branches of the military, Memorial Day is specifically designed to honor only the men and woman who paid the ultimate sacrifice during their service to their country.

Donna Roush said it's hard seeing the photos and reliving the day of the funeral again every year, but she said it's a story needing to be told to different generations.

Pictures of a bright red-headed Nick with his beloved, restored car "Monica"  showed a happier time for the Roush family.

Bob said he thought this would be the year he could get through the presentation and keep his emotions in check. "I've gone through a half a box of Kleenex already today," he said.

He told the story of how his son and his team were sent on a mission. They knew there was a strong chance they would be attacked, yet they went in any way. They fought through an ambush and were nearly back when Roush's Humvee was struck by the IED.

He told students how much Nicholas wanted to be in the U.S. Army and wanted to join a special ops team. Even when an injury during training took him out of the special ops position he wanted, he never gave up and continued to train.

"The bottom line is, Nick never accepted defeat and neither should you," said Bob. "Dream big. Do something big you want to do and do it now. Dream big and go for it because Nick would."

Eighth grade Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from Middleville troops demonstrated how to properly fold the American flag as U.S. Army veteran Walt Eavey told what each of the 13 folds meant.

Students were then split into groups and traveled to three cemeteries  - Irving Township, Thornapple Township, and  Mt. Hope Cemetery in Middleville. There, they placed American flags on the gravesites of veterans.

Several students at Mt. Hope Cemetery gathered at Roush's grave. They didn't talk. They just stood in silence and respect.