Generations apart, vet and student face battles

Sgt. First Class Luke Barella speaks with Transitions Learning Center junior Katey Watson on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, at Transitions Learning Center in Casper, Wyo.

CASPER, Wyo. — Katey Watson examined Luke Barella's red cap, decorated with pins from the Korean conflict.

Watson, with pink-streaked hair and small piercings below her lips, read each pin.

"That's way cool," the 17-year-old told Barella, 88, who wore an argyle sweater.

Recently, Barella and other war veterans shared their stories with Natrona County high schoolers as part of a Library of Congress' Veterans History Project that records oral interviews with vets. Some students, like Watson, saw pieces of their own lives reflected in the vets' stories.

Barella was Watson's age when he signed up for the U.S. Army. He was 18 and living in Casper when the Army shipped him to Europe to fight in World War II. Four years after returning home, he was called up to serve in the Korean War — despite having a wife and small child, and another child on the way.

Watson hopes to become a vet of a different sort. She wants to care for animals.

But first she must graduate high school. She is a junior at Transitions Learning Center, trying to catch up on the credits she lost when she ditched classes at Kelly Walsh High School. Last year, her mother, who was getting her life together after a struggle with alcoholism, died in a house fire. Watson's world came apart: She used drugs, struggled with depression and bounced among four schools in 16 months. Now she takes classes at Transitions, staying two days a week until 5 p.m. She's quit the drugs but still battles depression.

Like Barella, Watson has her own battles. She must face them with courage.

"It's my own little war in my own little life," she said. "Depression — I have really bad anger issues. It's hard."

Barella didn't want to go to Korea, where he was part of the Wyoming National Guard's 300th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. He took his pregnant wife and child to Fort Lewis, outside Tacoma, Wash., for training, while pretending he wasn't right in the head when his officers were around, hoping to be sent back to Wyoming.

"It didn't help," he deadpanned.

His wife delivered the baby while he was still in training.

"You have to finish your drills, Sarge, before you can go," his superiors told Barella.

Barella still has shrapnel in his collar bone from being wounded during World War II. A friend died in his arms in Korea. His pickup was repossessed because he couldn't make the payments on his military salary, he said.

History can be boring. But Barella's story brought it to life, Watson said. She found inspiration in his spirit and humor.

"No matter the circumstances, life still goes on," she said.

For Watson, she's ploughing forward, too.

"Now I have an A in environmental science, I don't think I've ever had an A." ''Everything is going beyond great right now."


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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