Hometown Heroes: ‘If we don't pass these values on, they're going to be gone forever’

For our Hometown Heroes Chris Batte and Elaine Oakes, keeping the memories of our heroes front and center hits close to home.

Posted: Dec 23, 2019 6:40 PM
Updated: Dec 28, 2019 9:50 AM

It's really hard to separate Chris Batte and Elaine Oakes, They are like sisters.

But four years ago, they didn't even know each other.

The way they were brought together is their bond for life.

Their connection? Veterans. More specifically senior veterans who came home from war years ago with deep battle scars.
Now, as they get older, the greatest casualty to them is to be forgotten.

For Batte, keeping the memories of our heroes front and center his close to home.

She wears a lanyard with the photo of her great uncle Joel who never made it back from World War II.

As a child, Batte learned a profound lesson when she witnessed how his death shook her family.

"The hurt was so deep, and I learned about sacrifice through his sacrifice," said Batte.

As a teacher, Batte felt compelled to pass that lesson on to her students at Wedtminster Academy.

One day, she went searching for the perfect guest speaker for her class.

"And I went on Facebook," recalled Batte, "And I asked if anyone knew a World War II veteran —- and Elaine (Oakes) answered."

Oakes' grandfather Sherwin Callander, 99, fit the bill.

"And she brought him to my class and we just fell in love with him," remembered Batte.

So much so, that all three of them (Batte, Oakes and Callander) decided to take a trip of a lifetime to Pearl Harbor to honor Callander who was stationed there during World War II.

When they returned, something life-changing happened. It was opportunity for Batte and Oakes to help other senior veterans like Callander

"That's what I feel like it is," said Oakes. "It's an opportunity and I feel like it led us to meet and do this together."

For a few years now, Batte and Oakes have been involved in numerous ways of paying tribute to aging veterans in north Alabama - like trips to former battlefields and monuments named in their honor.

It allows these senior heores to make new friends, open up and heal old wounds.

"When we go back on trips, it's just like you're back in the service, you're looking out for each other," said Callander.

"You take them anywhere that makes sense and let them interact and the magic happens," said Batte.

Most recently, Oakes and Batte, who quit her teaching job to help senior veterans fulltime, have started an "Adopt a Vet" in eight schools including Westminster.

Togerher, they see this gathering of older veterand and a younger generation as critical for our future as a free nation.

"If we don't pass these values on to the next generation, then they're going to gone forever," said Batte.

At Westminster, the students ranging from middle to high school ages, gathered around veterans at a recent visit. They hang on every word from these senior heroes. It's something they admit that they don't find in history books.

"This (Adopt a Vet experience) is like living and breathing history," said student Holly Hiller. "It's so incredible because these guys are like in their 90's and people aren't going to get to experience it."

It takes a special kind of dedication to keep our aging heroes forever present in our hearts and minds.

For Batte and Oakes, there is no other higher calling.

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