Questions ranging from ''What was President John F. Kennedy like?'' to ''How many people have you killed?'' were posed by Niles and Brookfield students enrolled in the Afterschool program to a special guest Tuesday at Niles Middle School.
U.S. Army veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Ronald E. Rosser of Roseville spoke candidly to the crowd about the importance of an education and how to succeed in life.
"In a very short time, you're going to leave this school. You're going to graduate. You're not going to like what you're going to see," he said.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Bonnie L. Hazen
Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and Columbus native Ronald E. Rosser speaks to Niles and Brookfield Afterschool students on Tuesday at Niles Middle School. Standing to his left is Rick George, associate director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Human Services Development, who helped coordinate the event.
"It's a struggle to get ahead. Everybody's trying to beat you. They want the good jobs, too," Rosser said.
Although his message seemed grim at times, the Columbus native did not leave it at that.
"The key to getting ahead is an education. You're going to have to compete when you leave the school ... even out of college. You've got to pay attention. I know what I'm talkin' about," he said.
Rosser talked about the challenges of being in the Army with only a 10th-grade education.
He was passed up numerous times and watched as his friends moved up the ranks, leaving him behind.
"You can't just slide through life, or you're going to be like me, wondering why you didn't make corporal," he said. "I'm an ex-combat soldier. I learned a lot of things in combat. How to stay alive. Do your job and stay alive. Privates get shot at more than anyone else. Corporals don't get shot at as much," he quipped.
Rosser said he quickly learned the value of an education and obtained his high school degree. After that, he rose to master sergeant in a short amount of time.
He was 22 and a corporal when he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Korean War.
"Just that fast. That's the key. That's the key to move up," he said.
As a Medal of Honor recipient, Rosser said he has met every U.S. president from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama and all of them in-between.
"What was John F. Kennedy like?" one student asked.
Rosser said Kennedy was a special person and a really great guy. He expressed sadness at his passing, but said, "A lot of good things happen, a lot of bad things happen."
Rosser, 84, has seen hundreds of people die around him, but said he doesn't regret his service. He said if someone asked him to defend the country again - even if he knew it would be certain death - he wouldn't hesitate.
"I've never been afraid to die. You know why? Because I'm not afraid to live," he said.
Still, it was hard for him to see his fellow soldiers fall. "A lot of them died just making sure I lived. We take care of each other. We're like one family," he said.
He also said despite his numerous medals and honors, he's no hero - just a soldier doing his duty.
"I'm a soldier, that's all I've ever been. I got to be a good soldier. The only thing I've done is my duty. You take care of your people. My greatest honor was I was able to serve this country when it needed help," he said.
At the conclusion of his speech, the students all stood and saluted him.
"Thank you for coming here and talking, and thank you for your service," said Kaitlyn Waltenbaugh, 15, a sophomore from Niles High School.
Niles eighth-graders Alliyah Warner, 13, and Hayley Coudriet, 13, said they enjoyed hearing Rosser speak.
"I think he's a role model because he actually dropped out of high school and then he went back. Also, he served our country just for us. He could have got killed for us," Warner said.
Coudriet said Rosser inspired her to explore a career in the Air Force.
"He said to do what you want. He said that you can always succeed in life," she said.
Rosser's final words to students: The world is theirs.
The YSU Center for Human Services Development serves as the fiscal / grant administrator for the Afterschool program. Rick George, associate director, helped coordinate the event.