Oliver Williams started his military service as a flight surgeon with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. When it was time for him to move on in 1978, he couldn't think of anything else he'd rather be doing.
"I missed the service," he said. "I missed the flying."
He enlisted with the U.S. Air Force and served for six more years. It was a way to pay back loans from medical school while paying tribute to a long family history of military service.
Williams and dozens of other veterans and active-duty military members visited Orange Middle School to share their stories as part of Living History Day, an annual full-day event held Friday, Nov. 16, at the school
Visiting veterans included representatives from every branch of the military and every major U.S. conflict since World War II.
The day started in the morning with breakfast and a special assembly that included a presentation of the colors, a flag-folding ceremony, a vocal music performance and original poetry readings by students.
Students spent the afternoon in classrooms listening to veterans, who shared anecdotes and photos from their military service.
Mark Mattox joined the Air Force right out of high school and so far has served for 25 years, participating in five military campaigns. He currently is stationed at an aircraft-refueling base in Columbus.
He talked about serving in Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall and told students about providing support in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
He said anyone can find their niche in the military.
"No matter what you do in the service, whether you're a doctor or whether you're infantry, every person is valuable and every job function is valuable," he said.
After the talks, students ate lunch with the veterans and service members, then toured several armored vehicles parked in the school's lot.
Leading up to Living History Day, students spent time in their social studies classes learning and completing projects about U.S. military history, and eighth-graders helped to plan the day and prepare the school for guests.
Eighth-grader Jacob Karl said the event helped him to understand war better.
"I like hearing from the actual person because they have seen it firsthand," he said, "and it's great to know that some people are willing to make sacrifices for the country."
Eighth-grader Rebecca Collins said it put a face to the service members whose names don't show up in history books.
"We heard about someone who was a Jeep driver in World War II," she said. "At school you only learn about the big names, but today we got to hear about different kinds of experiences."
For eighth-grader Georgia Barnes, the day left her thinking about her own family's history.
"A lot of the men in my family have been in war or affiliated with it," she said. "I always kind of knew that it wasn't a happy thing, but when they came back, they didn't always want to talk about it.
"Today I got to hear a lot of things I'd never heard before."