Being a part of Alice Wilson's sixth grade class was probably the highlight of my grade school days. We were family.

I still can recall seeing Mrs. Wilson for the first time. As an impressionable and very bashful 11-year-old I must admit that her stern appearance had me scared to death and dreading the year to come. It didn't take but about one day in the classroom to convince me that I was totally wrong about her.

Being a part of Alice Wilson's sixth grade class was probably the highlight of my grade school days. We were family.

I still can recall seeing Mrs. Wilson for the first time. As an impressionable and very bashful 11-year-old I must admit that her stern appearance had me scared to death and dreading the year to come. It didn't take but about one day in the classroom to convince me that I was totally wrong about her.

In previous columns, I have recalled the fond memories that I have of that sixth grade year way back in 1964. However, this column is not really about Mrs. Wilson, only indirectly. Her husband was Col. Wilson and he was stationed at the Blytheville Air Force Base just 16 miles from Osceola. During the course of the year he provided us with several educational films such as “Our Mr. Sun” before they aired on television.

On one particular day, Col. Wilson substituted for his wife. Wow, we actually had an Air Force colonel as a teacher for the day. For the most part, he followed Mrs. Wilson's outline for the class structure for the day. However, he took time to teach us a lesson I will never forget.

Colonel Wilson introduced us to a very important word – integrity. It was a big word for a sixth grader, at least back then. I had no clue what the word meant.

He insisted that it was a very important word that needed to be more than just another word in our vocabulary; it needed to be a part of our character.

The dictionary defines integrity as, “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”

He used a pencil to literally illustrate his point. Integrity, he said, is much like the lead in a pencil because it holds the pencil upright and makes it strong. Without the lead the pencil is weak and without purpose. After removing the lead he showed us how easy it was to break the pencil.

The colonel noted that integrity made a man or woman, boy or girl, strong and upright like a pencil and its lead but without integrity a person's character would snap as he broke the pencil in half after removing the lead.

“Without it (integrity),” he said, “you just don't have much.”

Integrity and honesty can be used interchangeably. Sadly, neither appears to be an important makeup of a person's character today. Once upon a time, a man's word was as binding as a contract. Shaking hands and coming to an agreement was as good as any legal document. My dad taught me that principle. His dad taught him as did his dad before him and so on. I like to think that I passed that idea on to my children who in turn instilled it in my grandchildren.

That day in class Colonel Wilson instilled in the hearts of 25 or so sixth graders the fact that all you really have in this world is your word. By keeping your word, you show others by example that you have integrity. By having integrity you gain the power of others' trust.

Over the years it seems as though the blacks and whites of right and wrong have faded into a much softer shade of gray and truth has evolved into an abstract form that changes with whatever is best suited for a particular situation.

Perhaps Billy Joel summed it up best in these lyrics from his hit song, “Honesty.”

“Honesty is such a lonely word

Everyone is so untrue

Honesty is hardly ever heard

And mostly what I need from you”

In these days of extreme violence, it is becoming more and more important to become a people of honesty and integrity. Treat others with the respect of being honest and share a lifetime of integrity with them.

I feel that it is Biblical to say that the truth will always set you free. An excellent lesson from God and the colonel. Thanks Colonel Wilson I will always remember what integrity means.