Darryl St. George has served his country both in and out of uniform. He left his high school teaching job on Long Island in 2010 to become a U.S. Navy corpsman, a medic for the U.S. Marines.
“I loved teaching. It was a great job, but I felt like something was missing. I kind of — I felt compelled to serve,” he told NPR’s Tom Bowman in July.
At the time, he was at a dusty combat outpost in southern Afghanistan. St. George had one month left in his deployment to Afghanistan, and said that when he came home, he planned to visit the school where he had taught.
Earlier in October, he kept that promise, and he went back to Northport High School. He saw other teachers and got something of a hero’s welcome.
However, when he had just quit his job to sign up to serve a year ago, St. George says many teachers seemed angry.
“My first reaction was, ‘Why? Why would you do this? … You’re making such a difference here,’” fellow social studies teacher Jim DeRosa says. “I was very worried he was going to be hurt.”
St. George came back safely, and he wanted to talk to the students about what he had learned and why he had served.
Northport High School students were barely tots when the twin towers were attacked — Sept. 11 is a history lesson. When St. George saw those towers burn, he felt a personal obligation to serve, and he wanted the students to understand that.
In a speech at the school, he told the students they have to care.
“What do you care about most? What moves you? What inspires you? Ask that question, and again, you don’t need to know the answer,” St. George said. “The important thing is that you’re asking the question, and you’re actively going out there and making a difference — in some way. It doesn’t have to be in uniform.”
Did St. George reach them with that lesson for which he had risked his life? That could remain unknown for years. Many students may be unmoved, but a few might remember his words for the rest of their lives.
St. George is back now with his unit at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
He plans to teach again, but that’s three years off. This next year, he could be sent anywhere, including back to Afghanistan.
“Who knows what will happen in Afghanistan in a year’s time,” he says. “When people ask me, I’m intentionally vague because I don’t know myself.”