CHEYENNE, Wyo. — In recognition of the upcoming Veterans Day, students at Cheyenne’s Cole Elementary School got to meet military heroes Wednesday.
Most of their questions were about a canine hero named Toni.
The German Shepherd was Cheyenne Mayor Rick Kaysen's scout dog during his tour with the Army in Vietnam in 1970-71.
Toni worked with Kaysen while walking "on point,” ahead of troops to alert them to danger on the roads, in the fields and the jungles.
Dogs have better sight, hearing and sense of smell than humans. They have served in the U.S. military since at least the Civil War, Kaysen said.
During his talk, Kaysen carried a picture of Toni, who he described as "my best friend for life."
The first question was whether Toni was still alive. Kaysen said no, the dog died of old age but had a good life.
He said other dog breeds were used by the military as well but the German Shepherds were good at scouting and some were trained to be attack dogs.
Kaysen was also asked if he saw any Nazis but informed the student that was a different war.
The students were part of the “Take a Vet to School Day” event.
The speakers included Tom Hutchings, an Air Force veteran and husband of state Rep. Lynn Hutchings of Cheyenne.
Lynn Hutchings, who is retired from the Alaska Air National Guard, attended the program but did not give a speech.
Tom Hutchings said he began his 32-year career in the Air Force as a medic, then became a navigator on aircraft that carried 33,000 gallons of fuel and re-fueled other planes.
"You have to be good at math to be a navigator," he said.
He told the students it was scary when the planes sometimes collided during the in-air refueling.
Hutchings also was assigned to research testing and was at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
Larry Barttelbort, director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, said that when students study history, they will learn that the World War II veterans saved the world.
Barttelbort, a retired colonel, said he served in the Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard.
"Every job was better than the last one," he said.
In his current job he connects Wyoming veterans to organizations for assistance.
Barttelbort introduced Paul Kniss of Cheyenne, who he described as a hero.
Kniss, a man with a long white beard who walks with a cane, served in the navy in World War II. After that war ended, he enlisted in the Air Force and was a fighter pilot during the Korean War.
His plane was shot down and he spent 18 months in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.
Kniss told the students that 1,200 pilots were shot down during the Korean War.
“Only 200 of us came home,” Kniss said.
One student asked him if he was scared during the aerial dog fights.
“You don’t have time to be scared,” Kniss answered.
Another student asked if Kniss was scared he would not make it back home.
“Every day,” Kniss said.
Veterans Day is Monday.