ABERDEEN – The bulletin boards lining the hallways of Aberdeen Middle School are a little tattered, a bit abused and somewhat faded, except for one — the enormous floor-to-ceiling, red-white-and-blue “Wall of Honor” outside Peggy Busker’s classroom.
“I notice they (the students) stand off of it,” Busker said, pointing to another bulletin board where students had torn paper. “They really respect it.”
Busker said the wall serves as place of comfort and pride to students, 40 percent of whom have an immediate family member connected to the military.
The idea for a wall dedicated to loved ones in the military who are serving abroad got off the ground about the same time that the war in Iraq began. Busker, a science teacher, distributed paper stars to each homeroom class and told students they could write the name of family members serving abroad.
Soon the board was filled with 110 stars. Some students brought in photographs. Traffic jams of students began to form in front of the wall during class changes.
After the March 20 death of Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey of Baltimore, Busker and her helpers traced his star in gold. Waters-Bey, 29, one of the first U.S. casualties of the Iraqi war, was the cousin of three Aberdeen Middle School students.
As they pass by the wall, some students look up at the Waters-Bey star. Some peer into the family photographs of service members, while others simply run past.
Miki Vazquez-Ailey, a skinny, dark-haired eighth grader, stopped to talk about his uncle, William Rodriguez, serving in the Army in Iraq. Miki pointed to his uncle’s star, his eyes wide. Miki’s dad is also in the service, but still stateside, an Army medic who is giving vaccinations to soldiers going abroad.
Students are not the only ones with stars on the wall; some faculty members have family serving abroad. The media specialist’s niece is in Iraq and Busker’s cousin is in Baghdad.
But Busker explained when you live or workk in Aberdeen “everyone knows someone who’s in Iraq.”
The neighborhood around the school is made up of small clapboard houses, conspicuous only for the large number of American flags and yellow ribbons bedecking every single home. Yellow ribbons also abound on trees in the parking lot at Aberdeen Middle, a low brown-brick edifice.
Teachers at the school said they were discouraged from talking about the war in class. The administration told them to answer students’ questions if they came up in class, but they did not want to make a big deal about the war for fear of upsetting students.
But when bombs started falling on Baghdad, Busker and her colleagues knew they had to do something. Up went the “Wall of Honor” in the basement hallway.
Meagan Anthony, an amiable seventh-grader in a powder-blue shirt and neat amber hair, waited to talk about her “hero” on the “Wall of Honor.” The seventh grader moved from Kentucky to live with an aunt in Harford County when her mother, an Army supply worker, was called up to active duty.
Pointing to her mother’s star, Meagan said she was “really, really worried” about her mom — who is in Baghdad — but felt better after she was able to speak to her on the phone recently.
But Tanisha Eastmond, a tall, attractive eighth-grader, is upset. Her father, an Army staff sergeant, was deployed to Germany just one month ago and she fears he may be abroad for a lot longer as the war effort continues.
“I don’t think it (the war) was necessary,” Tanisha said standing with her back to the wall. “If it was me, I would have just gone to Baghdad and talked to somebody. Maybe (President) Bush is scared, but I think he could have talked to someone.”
As she points to her father’s paper star on the wall, Tanisha said she did not expect the war to last long enough for her father to be called up. But she is glad she can talk about it. She talks to her mom and her friends and hopes that her father will not have to go to Iraq.
Social studies teacher John Mobiley, who helped create the wall, said he did not support the war effort at first, but now realizes that people risked their lives for the country and said he will do anything he can to help the families of those serving.
“I think this wall is something tangible for the kids. It makes it real for them and shows them how this is not just a national issue but a local issue that is part of someone’s life,” Mobiley said. “They are really proud of the wall. I think it keeps them going.”
Miki, standing by the wall, said he is so proud of his family’s sacrifice for the country that he is now actively considering a career in the military. While he had toyed with the idea before, he said, the military is now his second career choice — if his first choice of becoming a rap artist doesn’t pan out.