Kerstin Rao retired in 2021, after 2 decades as a teacher in Bedford Middle School’s gifted program.
Among her many wonderful experiences was the chance to meet World War II Army Air Corps combat navigator Ted Diamond. He died on Tuesday, at 105.
The longtime Westporter — who (among many other accomplishments) served 3 terms as 2nd Selectman — made quite a mark on Kerstin’s students.
And on her. She writes:
When I read on “06880” that Ted Diamond had passed, I found my heart filled with gratitude for the brief times I got to know him during his Veterans Day visits, when I taught at Bedford Middle School.
For at least 2 decades, possibly longer, Bedford’s 8th grade social studies teachers have organized visits by local veterans each November. The impact of these visits is often profound. Students would come into my classes the rest of the week bringing up points the veterans had talked about, wondering what they would have done if they were in the same situation, and curious about ways to serve the country.
My classroom was usually the gathering place as veterans arrived. The PTA would put together a breakfast, and the vets used that morning time to catch up with longtime friends. There was plenty of talk of grandchildren, ailments, and some razzing between the branches of service. However, I also observed how the older vets were genuinely curious to hear from the younger service members about their experiences.
Whenever I could, I brought my sketch journal. I quietly sat in the back of different classrooms as the vets shared their stories. Some years I made drawings of the men and women as they spoke, jotting down the insights that moved my heart. I’m glad I captured a sketch of Ted and some of his thoughts in my journal.
In 2016, Ted told how some men in his unit held deep racial biases. But when they were pinned down and the Tuskegee Airmen saved their lives, those biases were obliterated.
In 2017, he brought a photo of his unit. He pointed to a few faces, saying this one was from Michigan, this one was from Colorado. He said he could have brought photos of his wing shot off, or the engine of the plane across the way on fire, but to him, this was the single most important picture. He wanted the students to understand that no matter where we are from, we are one country, working together.
Ted Diamond stood out to me because every year, without fail, his stories focused on our shared humanity. He had a graciousness and gentle humor that made his listeners lean in. He took us into the moment during pivotal times of his World War II battle experiences. He always left us with the message that we have far more in common than we realize, and this is where the true promise of our country resides.
In my lifetime, I’ve never witnessed such bitter division in America as we have lived through these past few years. Nationally and locally, I am troubled to notice a greater willingness to violate the rights of others, speak in inflamed rhetoric without a willingness to listen, and openly expressed innuendo that violence could be inevitable.
Violence is not inevitable.
Discord is not inevitable.
When we pause a moment, we realize that we dishonor the legacy of our veterans if we allow our country to erode from within. I heard this expressed by several veterans over the years. If Ted has left us a call to action, it is this: Each of us has a choice. We could pull further apart, or we could strengthen our country by working together. We can choose integrity, understanding, and connection which becomes a service to our country.
For this message which guides my own path forward, I am truly grateful. Thank you, Ted.
Ted Diamond’s family is still preparing his obituary. But they sent along a few photos. Here is a century-plus, of a well-lived life.
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