Editor’s note: Here are three selections by Park Place Middle School teacher Elke Hesselgrave of student essays on local veterans for Veterans Day.

Across the Pacific

By Amanda Giner

Watching the chef from his ship get shot was the most action that Jerry Hacket witnessed throughout his time in the service during World War II.

They had pulled into Honolulu, Hawaii, and Hacket and a few others from his ship had gone to a tavern for some drinks. The ship's chef had gotten into an argument while they were there, and things got ugly rather quick. The Filipinos in the tavern, who bore guns, didn't appreciate what was occurring in front of them, so they opened fire on the chef. The chef was shot and carried back to the ship by shore patrol, and Hacket never saw him again after that.

But why don't we rewind for a second and start from the beginning.

At the age of seven, Hacket was placed in an orphanage along with his three other siblings following the death of his parents. He remained there until he was fifteen, the age of which he decided to become a merchant marine.

He was influenced to serve because of his older brother, John, who had joined the navy. He wanted to join the navy as well, but was told that he was too young. Because of this, he enlisted as a merchant marine instead.

"We were all running down to the recruitment office," he recalled.

He spent two years serving as a merchant marine, where his ship transported the injured to safety and brought replacement personnel wherever they were needed. He served under the Army Transport Service (ATS), and he mostly took care of the planes and made sure that they were ready to fly at all times.

His final stop was in Yokohama, Japan, around the time that the Japanese surrendered. From there, his ship traveled back to California, but they were caught in a terrifying typhoon. Hacket claimed that it was the most difficult thing that he had encountered during his time in the service.

He described how one of the ship's spare anchors broke loose and bounced all over the deck. They struggled to get it secured. But that wasn't the worst of it.

The ship did not have a collision bulkhead, so they feared that the ship might go down. Luckily, they made it to shore safely, where he joined the navy since he was finally of age.

He spent four years in the navy, and with his time in the merchant marines, it added up to a total of six years in the service. Over the course of these six years, he traveled all over the Pacific Ocean.

"It made a man out of me. That's the truth," he admitted as he reflected on his time served. "If they would take me in, I would go again," he added.

The first thing he did when he got out of the navy was look for a job. He ended up working as an operating engineer for forty-nine years.

In 1953, he got married, and he eventually had three kids –one boy and two girls.

"He's a wonderful husband and a wonderful father," said his wife, Fran.

He has a small dog that he walks every day, and he enjoys socializing with whoever is willing to talk. He volunteers at the fairgrounds and is a great member of the community.

Ironically, he turns eighty-eight on Veteran's Day this year.

Time in Iraq

By Alice Olson

“I’m not in America anymore,” Thylor Olson thought as he took his first step off the plane, finally in Iraq. “Everything smelled different, the heat was so intense, at times searing, up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit,” Thylor recalled, thinking back to the days of when he was first deployed to Iraq.

Ever since a little boy, Thylor and his cousin would play with their Army toys. He was certain he was going to achieve his young desire to join the military some day. When Thylor was 18, he joined the United States Army in early 2003. Thylor started basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, for three months. That’s where he learned survival skills, how to shoot, rappel, march, and basics of living the Army life. That was only the start of his nine year journey.

Joining Airborne School, Military, In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Thylor learned how to successfully use a parachute while jumping off a plane. “When I was training in Airborne School,” he explained, “I always wanted to be the first person to jump out, and since all the parachutes are connected together, it’s easier for a disaster to happen if you aren’t first, as the lines can get tangled. Jumping out first was the safest thing to do.”

Finally, in 2007, Thylor Olson made his first trip to another country, all the way across the world, to Iraq. The land was a sea of dirt and sand, beautiful, yet different from what he was used to in his hometown in the Pacific Northwest. He was in Ramadi, Iraq. Nicknamed the “Hellcats”, Thylor’s company would perform many combat missions where he, along with two or three additional soldiers who would perform overwatch as snipers. Sometimes, the Hellcats pulled an additional one or two guys for security to monitor their location while in overwatch mode. That was his first duty part of the 3rd Infantry Division, or 3rd ID as he called it. Overwatch, often consisted of hiding out in houses or other buildings at night as to monitor and provide security for other combat troops. “We’d knock some bricks out of the house walls during the daytime and return later in the night to use them for operations during the watch.” Thylor said.

Thylor was a sniper in 3rd ID for four years, then became the team leader, and would finally be promoted to be the sergeant of the squad. “I think my favorite assignment was going to a tiny town, South of Husseiniya, Iraq. That was where sick people and orphans lived, it was kind of like a slum,” Thylor explained, looking back at his time serving in the war. “I would try to plan my missions there so I could hand out candy to the kids, or give food to the locals. I’d make friends with them, and they would tell my team if they were aware if there were any roadside bombs.”[1] 

Thylor would return for his 2nd deployment to Camp Taji Base, Northern Iraq, close to the border of Iran. His team would travel to nearby shops which sold cheap DVDs, but they’d usually watch the TV show, X-Files, and they’d lay around in the burning sun watching it. Most of the time there they were bored. Sometimes, they wouldn’t shower for around two weeks. His team camped there for 12 months, 2009 to 2010.

After nine hard years in the army, Thylor finished his career at age 27. He is now an Elevator Mechanic, with a wife and four kids. He occasionally talks to his old team on Facebook. “Being in and being out. Nothing really exciting to say about it,” Thylor recalls, “but I do remember that from the day I joined the Army, I missed being home, but the day I got out, I missed going back.”

“I will never forget taking care of Thylor when he was a kid,” Tim Olson, his uncle, said. “I knew he would do great things in life, he is a very brave man. I’m proud of what he has done, and I respect him very much.”

Local librarian a dedicated veteran

By Sophie Breaker

Boots crunching on gravel at basic training is what local librarian, Keith Ingersoll, at Park Place Middle School in Monroe remembers wistfully when asked about his experience serving in the US Army. Ever since he was a small child Keith wanted to serve in the US Armed Forces. At the age of 26, he finally put this dream in action as he signed documentation to join the US Army. He was quickly sent to basic training in Alabama at Fort McClellan for eight weeks of physically and mentally demanding work. “It was very intense,” laughs Keith recalling the events, “I was in good shape back then.” His only regret about signing up is that he hadn’t done it earlier in his life declaring that he was too old, but wouldn’t take the experience back for anything.

Soon, Keith was deployed off to Germany where he was placed in an administrative working department. “The hardest thing about the deployment was being away from my wife,” states Keith, even going as far to say that she was and still is his greatest inspiration. During his three years serving in Germany, he rose up the ranks to Sergeant and gained many strong bonds with those stationed around him. He recalls all of the servicemen stationed with him working, and laughing around the barracks as they all share very fond memories. “I had some good friends,” he expresses happily as stories of the past return to him. Now, 58 year-old Keith still keeps in contact with some old companions through Facebook.

Looking back on his service now, he is gratified to have followed in his father's footsteps by joining the US Armed Forces. “I have a greater appreciation of being an American,” Keith concludes proudly. Mr. Ingersoll’s passionate work ethic has rubbed off on some of the students he helps as well. One student says, “He’s always working super hard and helping us out with school stuff.” Keith Ingersoll’s story is one of thousands; it’s time we listen and honor each of them for their dedication to our beloved country.