CORONA DEL MAR — In a sea of teenagers, veterans from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy stood out every few feet along long tables that filled up the Corona Del Mar High School gym.
The veterans wore suits and ties or regular clothes, and a few were in full uniform. They represented World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq wars. One of them said he served in a "we-weren't-there" conflict in Latin America.
One man served under Gen. George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge, another was a Pearl Harbor survivor and another, Walter Ehlers, was a Medal of Honor recipient.
Corona Del Mar invited more than 70 veterans from the Freedom Committee of Orange County to its Living History Luncheon on Thursday for the culmination of the sophomore classes' Living History Service Learning Project.
"It was really inspirational," Madison Meadows, 15. "It was interesting to hear how the veterans felt after serving our country."
The Freedom Committee is an organization of veterans who gather once a month to share their stories with each other and also go to schools "to pass the torch of liberty on to the next generation," said William Holiday, 84, who served in the Navy during World War II.
The organization has talked to more than 50,000 students since its inception five years ago, Holiday said.
"I think they should be reminded and made to understand that with all the bad going on today, there is still some good," he said. "If we don't tell the youth what happened in the past, they won't know."
The veterans were thanked for sharing their stories with the students with a letter, a DVD copy of their interview and a report on it.
The students were broken up into small groups and assigned a veteran that they interviewed to find out more about their experiences.
The project was created seven years ago to give the students an understanding of what it's like to serve in the military for when they read "A Separate Peace," a novel by John Knowles about two boys becoming adults during WWII, said Denise Weiland, who organized the project.
"[The students] got to interview all of you to see what it's really like," Weiland said to the audience.
Madison said it was interesting learning about her veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam as a combat engineer, especially because she never got to meet her grandfather who served in the Navy.
She said she can now kind of relate to the novel's protagonists from what she has learned about how scary enlisting was from her veteran.
Learning in a hands-on way worked better for Madison than just reading from a textbook, she said.
"I think every kid in school should be able to have an experience like this," she said.
The Freedom Committee of Orange County meets at 11:30 a.m. the second Wednesday of every month at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Ave. For more information, go to http://www.fc-oc.org.