WEST TERRE HAUTE —
West Vigo Middle School on Friday dedicated the Kesler Veterans Memorial Garden, which surrounds the school’s flag pole, along with a new U.S. flag.
It was part of the school’s Veterans Day program to honor all veterans, including John and Maxine Kesler, both deceased World War II veterans who annually attended the school’s program.
“They were so vital in this community in keeping patriotism alive. They were very visible in our school during Veteran’s Day and anytime we needed anything for our citizenship education, they were here to help,” Melanie Beaver, a seventh-grade language arts teacher who coordinated the program, said of the Keslers.
“It is important at our school that we show our students that Veterans Day is an attitude, not a 24-hour period, so that garden at the front of our school will show students that,” said Beaver, whose nephew, Army Pvt. Robert W. Murray Jr., was killed in 2005 while serving in Afghanistan.
Veterans Day is Sunday, with observance on Monday.
Technology and business students at the school designed and fabricated a plaque that will be placed at the base of the memorial.
A new flag was also presented to Brad Kesler, a son of John and Maxine Kesler. John Kesler, who died two years ago, was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, while Maxine, who died in August, was a nurse, with the rank of first lieutenant.
“We went to every Veterans Day event, parade and [the] Highland Lawn cemetery since I was a child,” Brad Kesler, 61, said before the program’s start. “It was important for both of them, being both veterans, to honor veterans.”
Brad recalled a Veterans Day when his mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, went to an event where former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan spoke. His mother started walking toward the governor.
“I asked her where she was going. She said she wanted to talk to him. I told her the governor doesn’t have time to talk to us. She gave me that look and said he will talk to me,” Brad said, as tears welled in his eyes.
“A security guard put out his hand and she just brushed it aside and walked right up to the governor. She said, ‘I am Maxine Kesler.’ He said, ‘Yes ma’am.’ She said, ‘You know there were women who fought in World War II, don’t you?’ ” Brad Kesler recalled.
“He said, ‘Yes I try to talk about them,’ ” Brad Kesler said. Maxine then said, ‘I listened to your entire speech and you never mentioned women one time.’ Gov. Kernan started to say something and then he looked at her and he said, ‘Ms. Kesler, I have 10 more stops to make today. I guarantee you I will mention women at every one,’ ” Kesler said.
Kesler said his mother “was very proud of the women who served today and there has been such movement up in the ranks for women. My mother was on an island in the Philippines with 9,000 soldiers and seven nurses,” Brad Kesler said. “She went through the Panama Canal and talked about all the big guns being alongside of it to protect it and saw Admiral Halsey’s fleet sail out of Pearl Harbor. She saw things we read about in history books.”
World War II changed their whole life, Brad Kesler said, as the GI bill allowed his father to go through school to become an attorney.
Maxine Kesler served in Manila in the Philippine Islands, where she treated U.S. soldiers and Japanese prisoners, and served at Biak Island. She was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Victory Medal, Philippine Independence Ribbon and Good Conduct Medal.
John Kesler also served in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific, receiving four Bronze Stars. He was commissioned as a Sagamore of the Wabash by former Gov. Kernan.
Alice Shorter, a seventh-grade science teacher at the middle school, spoke of how hard it is for mothers to send their children into war. Her son, Army Capt. Kyle C. Shorter, on military leave, attended the program in uniform.
“We mothers experience emotions and have a perspective different from soldiers who can try to only understand why we worry and cry so much,” she said. “Military parents often say that we did not volunteer, but we also serve. As any Army mom will say, it’s a whole different part of your heart when it is your child,” Shorter told students gathered for the program.
“Sending your son or daughter to war is one of the most difficult experiences a parent can have. You spend 18 years or more protecting your child. Then you are called upon them to be brave and courageous as you see them off to a place where mortal danger is a daily fact of life,” Shorter said.
Shorter said modern day communications make it easier to stay in touch with relatives, but the wait is often difficult between talks. “We talk about our soldiers. We live for the opportunity to talk with them and we wait for another chance to talk to them again,” she said.
“We cry when they haven’t called or written and we cry when they do. We cry because we are frightened for them and because we miss them. We cry when they leave, when they return and when they leave again,” she said. “There is nothing like a good cry to set your head straight. We moms say that our tears are our liquid love, straight from our hearts to our eyes,” Shorter said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.