In 2011, World War II veteran Dick Graff, a resident at Ashby Ponds in Ashburn, started talking to students at J.L. Simpson Middle School in Leesburg about lessons he learned from the war. The experience proved so mutually beneficial that he since has spoken at several other area schools about the importance of passing history along to future generations.
Graff was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944 and became a member of the 104th Infantry Division, also known as the “Timberwolves.” He spent 195 days in continuous combat, and served as a private in Belgium, Holland and Germany, for six and a half months. He has written about 15 short stories for his children, grandchildren and friends about the war, and began talking to students with the help of history teacher Pam Martello at Simpson Middle.
He has returned to speak to six of Martello’s classes. Other schools where he has spoken include Rocky Run Middle School and Oakton Elementary School.
He tells students stories that war is not glamorous and how he prayed everyday for just one more day of life. He also talks about changes in how war are fought, and once said “the biggest difference between World War II and all wars that have come since then is that when we went across Germany and reached the Elbe River and captured all the German land, the war was over. Not anywhere since then have we had that kind of closure.”
Graff keeps close a photo taken of him on May 8, 1945, V-E Day, the day the war in Europe came to an end. He and his squadron spent the previous two weeks in a small German town, protecting a bakery that Graff said was not a bad assignment – since no one was shooting at a bakery and he got a loaf of dark German bread each day! Dick and his wife Jean visited that same bakery in 2008, which was still operating.
He says sharing the stories from his days in the army with students is rewarding; they are very attentive and like to ask many questions!
Do you have any stories you’d like to share for Memorial Day? Let me know at email@example.com.