Two recipients of the Medal of Honor took the time to chat with students at Wilson Elementary on Oct. 23.
Students at Wilson Elementary were treated to two special guests Wednesday morning. The Medal of Honor Convention kicked off in Tampa on Tuesday and two of its recipients made the trek to Plant City to chat with the young students.
Lt. James Taylor and SSG Ronald Shurer II spent some time getting to know the curious pupils and shared their stories during a presentation in the cafeteria. They then spent approximately 20 minutes answering their questions and offering a sneak peek into the lives of true American heroes.
“You’re at the age right now where you’re not sure what you want to do in the future,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing you can’t do in life. Set a goal and with desire, determination and dedication you can make it happen. Remember, there’s no letter ‘i’ in the word ‘team’… we’re all together.”
Taylor, 81, served in the Vietnam War. He was in charge of an armored cavalry unit, Troop B. When his company came under attack on Nov. 8, 1967, he ran into harm’s way to save several wounded men from a burning vehicle. After moving them to safety, he returned to continue the fight and was wounded. Despite the injury, he ran from tank to tank dodging enemy fire and was able to successfully save several more lives. He was awarded the medal by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Shurer, 40, served as a medic in Afghanistan. On April 6, 2008, his team was attacked in Shok Valley in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. He ran through enemy fire up a mountain to reach the wounded soldiers on his team. He helped one, then fought for an hour before he was able to assist four more soldiers. While caring for one soldier, a bullet hit his helmet. He told the students he paused, a ringing in his ears, as he struggled to understand what happened. Looking down at the soldier below him he asked him if he had been hurt. Realizing he was OK, he continued on, aiding more soldiers as the fight went on for hours.
It wasn’t until he was safely back at a base and getting ready to shower that he noticed trauma to his arm. Picking up his uniform, he found a bullet hole through the sleeve and realized in the commotion he had been shot in the arm. He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery. However, in 2016, that recognition was put under review and they decided his service met the qualifications for the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the medal in 2018 by President Donald Trump.
The elementary students listened to their short introductions and then began to ask their questions, which were written out on thick slips of paper.
“How did you keep helping people even when you got hurt?” asked one.
“Do you still talk to any of the soldiers you saved?” asked another.
When one young boy asked if they would still serve their country if they had a choice after knowing what would happen, Taylor immediately stood to attention, offering a soft smile to the curious group.
“I’m 81 years old,” Taylor said. “If my country needed me today, they’d have to give me a bigger uniform, but I’d do it. Whatever I can do to protect and preserve the country for you guys, I’d do it.”
Many of the students asked them to share their memories of the days when they fought through near-impossible circumstances to keep their friends and loved ones safe.
While Taylor joked that it was so long ago the details were starting to get fuzzy, he quickly was able to slip into specifics of that long mission on the ground. Duty — and impeccable training — kept them going, he said. Fear was there, of course, but he said it was controlled. They knew they had to get the job done, so they did. Quitting never crossed his mind and he encouraged every student there to throw the word out of their vocabulary.
“Never quit,” he demanded. He told them when times were rough, to look to their right and to their left and see those walking alongside them. As a team you can do anything, he said. Always keep your team in your periphery.
Both reflected on their families’ patriotism, their shared sense of duty. Shurer was in graduate school when 9/11 took place. He said he remembers sitting there, watching as people enlisted and went overseas, and he knew at that moment he had to join them. Though he could have gone into the Army as an officer thanks to his education, he decided to enlist instead so he could become a medic.
It baffled everyone around him, but in his gut he said he knew it was what he had to do.
Neither of the veterans seemed interested in calling themselves heroes, but both said it was crucial everyone take the time to find a way to give back, to serve their country however they can.
“You can choose the military, you can choose the Peace Corps, you can volunteer in your neighborhood or spend time working for a homeless shelter. Just make sure you find some way to give back,” Shurer said. “I just want to reiterate that whatever you choose to do in life, that you need to make sure you’re giving back. None of us are here alone, we are all in this together.”
Wilson was the only school in Plant City selected to have the special guests drop in for a presentation. Principal Kayla Forcucci said it was something she believes will stick with the students for years to come.
“We are just so incredibly humbled by the honor to have these gentlemen with us and to just be able to have them share the life lessons, working as a team, giving your all and doing the right thing at the right time, that have made all the difference in their lives,” Forcucci said. “It’s just been an amazing experience and was such an honor to have them as our guests.”
After their presentation, the duo was presented with two handmade paintings from the school. As they filed out to return to their classroom, many of the students stopped to shake their hands or share stories of their own family members who have served.
Taylor and Shurer intently listened to every student that took the time to stop.
“It’s wonderful,” Taylor said. “This is our future. These kids are our future. What they do, or what they fail to do, will be determined on whether they live in a free society from henceforth. I love coming to Florida. I went to the University of Tampa some 40 years ago. It’s just a great honor to come here and talk to these kids.”