April 19, 2011

Pleasant Valley students prepare for flight to D.C. with area veterans

Twelve current and former Pleasant Valley Middle School students will fly to Washington on Wednesday to see the national World War II Memorial — accompanying an equal number of veterans who fought in the war.

By the time you read this, 12 current and former Pleasant Valley Middle School students will be on their way to Washington to see the national World War II Memorial — accompanying an equal number of veterans who fought in the war.

Tuesday evening, about 300 people gave them a rousing sendoff with a banquet and bagpipes playing period songs in the school cafeteria.

The students are "guards" on an Honor Flight, a national effort to get as many WWII veterans to Washington as possible to see the memorial while they are still able to go.

The youths have been working for more than a year to raise money for the trip — washing cars, blending smoothies, selling bake-sale goods and organizing a dodge-ball tournament and community dinner.

Along the way, they had to clear many obstacles, not the least of which is that they come from one of Wichita's poorest schools.

They had to move the dodge-ball tournament to Northridge Friends Church after school district officials deemed it too violent for school grounds. And after they raised nearly $13,000 to pay for the trip, they had to overcome concerns from some program organizers who thought they were too young to handle the all-day duties of serving as guards, who provide whatever assistance the elderly veterans require.

"The thing is they never quit," said Meg Plotner, a teacher who helped organize the trip. "Whenever someone said they couldn't do it, they didn't listen, they just kept working.

"It's been the community — this community — and the veterans, who supported them when others tried to tell them 'no.' These are great kids."

The students plan to interview their veterans — and any other local WWII vets who want to tell their stories — and supply copies of the DVDs to the families and the school library.

For the students, Tuesday evening was a mix of happy anticipation and a little nervousness.

"I've never flown before," said Nora Lechner, a 15-year-old freshman at Heights High School who started working toward her Honor Flight when she was at Pleasant Valley. "I'm excited, really excited, a little nervous because of the flying, but excited."

The students were supposed to meet the veterans they'll be matched with at the banquet, but the information didn't arrive. Instead, they were scheduled to meet their veterans when they get to the airport.

Lechner said she could hardly wait.

"It's been a year and a half waiting to meet him," she said.

The one pair who know their traveling partners are Bob Moody, 85, and his grandson, Pleasant Valley eighth-grader Sterling Moody, 13.

"This will probably be the highlight of my life," said the elder Moody. "It's quite an honor to go with my grandson."

Moody, a Marine, was a flight ground crewman in the Pacific theater — he served in the battles at Bougainville, Peleliu and Okinawa and finally ended up in China.

He was a high school senior when he enlisted in 1944. He said that when he got to the induction center in Kansas City, they told him to go home and finish high school and they'd call him up later. But the call came before he got home, he recalled.

"They jerked me out of high school," he said. "I had to go back and finish."

He returned to Wichita in 1946 and has lived here ever since, working in contracting, real estate and development of a motel and trailer park.

"My kids went to this school," he said, his eyes misting. "Four boys, all went to this school."

Sterling said it's "cool" to share the trip with his grandfather and that he thinks he'll learn a lot.

He hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, as two of his cousins did.

The Moodys have known they'd be paired since June, but have been waiting since their original scheduled flight was pushed back, he said.

But Sterling said he never lost faith.

"I knew we'd make it sooner or later," he said. "It took us a while, but we got there."

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