WWII veteran changes student perspective by sharing life experiences

WWII veteran changes student perspective by sharing life experiences

Mariam Yayha

George Hage spoke to U.S. Studies classes about his experience during World War II. Photo by Mariam Yayha

These days it is hard to find true sacrifice. When surrounded by misleading organizations and hypocritical leaders, it’s hard to put your faith in people.

Today, March 9, a man of a different era honored my class, Cone and Irwin’s Honors U.S. History, with a visit.

He spoke of his involvement in WWII, his experiences of Prohibition and the Great Depression.  The veteran, George Hage, 87, fought in the 84th Infantry Division.

“On October of ’42 they had lowered the draft age from 20 to 18,” Hage said. “So I was a fair game.”

Even though Hage was in the process of completing college, he was drafted. Months later, Hage learned he was headed to battle as an anti-tank gunner in the infantry. Hage lost many friends, including many who protected Hage himself from death, and counts himself incredibly fortunate to be alive and well.

It overwhelmed me to hear about his sacrifices because not many people would choose to put their own life at risk for the sake of others. Just one example of this was his infantry’s freeing of a women’s concentration camp.

“I thought all the women in the camp were pregnant, from their swollen bellies,” Hage said. “But our leader told us they were suffering from malnutrition.… They went through a long period of rehabilitation before they could leave. The conditions were terrible; they were underfed, overworked, and even covered in lice.”

Although my grandfather was not a veteran, Mr. Hage reminded me of him, and how he was full of courage, strength and empathy for other people. Not only did he help all of the people in the war, but he was willing to come and relive his experiences in his discussion with a few interested high school students.

The U.S. class had many questions. Maria Kalaitzandonakes, junior, was curious about his assimilation or preservation of his family’s culture. Hage is originally from Lebanon. He came to America with his father, mother and brother. His father was a businessman who spoke “broken English.”

From the beginning, Hage had a deep appreciation for all that America had to offer, but, he reminded Kalaitzandonakes that all must stay true to their roots. After he returned from the war, he was so glad to be able to enjoy his tradition of lunch at Casablanca, a Middle Eastern restaurant, every Wednesday.

By the end I was brought to tears, his soft voice and matter-a-fact stories left me with such a deep respect for this aged soldier.

Never before had history class been so inspiring.

By Mariam Yayha