Students learn of veteran service - and sacrifice

      SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Ken Leisten Sr. never fought in war, but his son Kenny did.

      "I raised Kenny for the first couple of years as a single parent, and he just grew up so fast," Leisten said, "and before I knew it, my young son was grown up and in the National Guard."

      Leisten joined the students at Thurston Middle School at an assembly last week as they met some of the men and women who've served in the military.

      But the students won't ever have a chance to meet his son.

      Kenny Leisten Jr. was due to come home on leave in 2004, but Kenny gave his leave to another soldier so he could come home and meet his new baby.

      That soldier heard of Kenny's death on an airport TV as he stepped off the plane in Portland in 2004.

      "My son's rig was blown into the air, spun around a couple of times and landed on the side," Leisten said. "Kenny was killed instantly."

      The program explained Veterans Day to students, including what service - and sacrifice - mean.

      "This year I paid more attention because when you're in the 8th grade you learn more about history and it's really interesting to me," said 8th-grader Megan Spangler.

      "Every chance they get to be thinking about a veteran and to be thanking them, especially on Veterans Day," 8th-grader Cody Dean said.

      Leisten appreciated the lesson the students learned.

      "They're just so innocent and have so many things on their mind, but I would say it is the reason that we have our freedom and the liberties that we have," Leisten said. "It's because of our military, they protect us. They're what keep us safe."