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In tending war memorial site, young hearts fill with respect

Most of the time, the job is pretty straightforward.

"You water the plants and pull out all of the bad roots," said Seth Coudray.

"We also trim the trees," added Sinjin Blaha.

"And fertilizer," said Megan Kuhn.

But on Thursday that work took on worlds of meaning, as the students from Chocachatti Elementary School placed flags at the World War II memorial site they have tended this year. The task was part of their Micro Society assignment, which involves campus beautification and recycling.

Fifteen of those flags marked the trees planted in memory of 15 Hernando County veterans killed during that war, and another was placed near a plaque for a 16th sailor who was recently added to their number.

The students didn't know much about the stories behind those veterans - who they were, or how they died in a war in which their grandfathers might have been too young to fight.

Even the organizers didn't know about the 16th veteran back in 2001, when the trees were planted, or in 2003 when the plaque was added, said veteran Bob Muehlbauer of the BellSouth Pioneers Life Member Club.

Varise T. Mountain, a member of the Merchant Marine, was lost in September 1942 when his oil tanker sank - presumably by enemy action - somewhere between Aruba and Iceland.

His daughters, Patricia Webb and Bobbie Mosher, were on hand Thursday to correct the oversight.

Tending those trees in front of the school every week, right there in front of school, gets you to thinking.

"That they did a great job trying to serve our country, and succeeding," Megan offered.

On Thursday, Pearl Harbor day, the students marched to the site amid a military color guard. Veterans from all the armed services were there, along with the Knights of Columbus in their full-dress splendor.

It was a little nerve-racking, admitted 9-year-old Brianna Barnason.

But afterwards, the students said it had prompted thoughts of their own relatives who have served, and the sacrifices families make.

"I was thinking about my uncle, because he was in the Army and Navy," said Jasmine Merritt. "He was gone for a really long time in the '70s."

"My dad's in the Air Force," said Tori Fister.

"My uncle was in the war," added Seth Coudray. "He was in World War II."

Any others?

Jakob Weyde spoke up.

"My sister's in Iraq," he said. "She's the person who lays out the map, and then she goes with them."

His big sister Chevy, a recent Central High School graduate, is serving as a navigator with a combat unit over there.

Suddenly, their afternoon's work came a little closer to home.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

"They did a great job trying to serve our country, and succeeding."

Megan Kuhn, a Chocachatti Elementary School student, on Hernando County residents who lost their lives during World War II.

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