StoryCorps: Iraq Vet Offers A Final Lesson For His Former Student: 'Real Men Cry' Erik Booker now teaches middle school in South Carolina, but he also served in the Iraq War — just like the father of one of his former students, Jenna. She has a few important questions for him.
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Iraq Vet Offers A Heartfelt Lesson For His Student: 'Real Men Cry'

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Iraq Vet Offers A Heartfelt Lesson For His Student: 'Real Men Cry'

Iraq Vet Offers A Heartfelt Lesson For His Student: 'Real Men Cry'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hey, it's Friday morning, which means it's time for StoryCorps, which encourages people to get to know each other better by asking questions and listening. Erik Booker is a seventh-grade teacher in Sumter, S.C., also an Army veteran who served in Iraq. And last year, he had a student named Jenna Power in his classroom. She is the daughter of an Iraq war vet. And Jenna wanted to interview her teacher about his service.

JENNA POWERS: What was the hardest thing that happened to you in Iraq?

ERIK BOOKER: Being separated from my family for that long. You can't even begin to explain that to someone who hasn't experienced something like that. Were you ever afraid when your dad was deployed?

JENNA: Oh, yeah, I was pretty young, but I had nightmares about it. And when he missed my birthday, like, that just - it got me (laughter).

BOOKER: I'm sure he knows exactly how you felt about that because for him, it was a drag, too.

JENNA: What was your job in the Army?

BOOKER: I was an intelligence officer. So that kind of helps me in the classroom 'cause I was trained on how to read body language and understand where people are maybe not telling me the whole truth.

JENNA: (Laughter).

BOOKER: That comes in real helpful as a teacher.

JENNA: So why did you decide to become a teacher?

BOOKER: Because I wanted to continue to serve.

JENNA: I think it was a great decision that you chose to be a teacher.

BOOKER: Well, I appreciate that, Jenna, thank you. But it was a transition to think about things in different ways. I remember walking into the first school dance with flashing lights, loud music, and I found myself flashing right back. It was almost too much for me.

JENNA: Wow.

BOOKER: So how did you know I was a veteran?

JENNA: Right away kind of knew, I guess because my dad does things a certain way and you have, like, the same mannerisms and stuff like that, you know, even the way you walked. It was really weird.

(LAUGHTER)

BOOKER: Well, that's funny you say that, though, because I purposely didn't mention it.

JENNA: I know (laughter).

BOOKER: But you knew. That's good.

JENNA: Do you have any advice for me?

BOOKER: My advice to you is be brave. You know, let's face it. There are some students who sit in my class and they do what I tell them to do, but you were never satisfied with that. You always said, but wait? That was my favorite phrase from you - but wait. I want you to ask those questions - why is it that way? Why do we do things that way? And to me, that's - what sets people apart is that desire to know more, and you do that.

JENNA: You definitely made a difference in me, so thank you.

You look like you're about to cry. You OK?

BOOKER: I am about to cry.

JENNA: Sorry.

BOOKER: But that's OK. Real men cry.

INSKEEP: Seventh-grade teacher Erik Booker with his former student and expert interviewer, Jenna Powers, who's now in the eighth grade in Sumter, S.C. This conversation will be archived, along with all StoryCorps interviews, at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. And by the way, it's easier than ever to be part of history. Record your story this Thanksgiving weekend. Go to npr.org and search Great Listen to find out how.

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