Veterans meet Belleville, Kan., fifth graders
November 15, 2018
"You fought the fight til it was done
You have the strength to carry on
You thought it'd be much better back home-did ya?
You try each day, keep pushing through
But the battle lives inside of you
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah!
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Chorus: "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah"
As 50 Belleville, Kan., elementary school students were joined by 100 veterans and their spouses during a special tribute and patriotic chorus honoring veterans' wartime service, this (above) hard-hitting combat re-make of the inspirational "Hallelujah" hymn brought misty eyes to many in attendance. One veteran, emotionally choked up, took a needed break out in the hallway. The annual program by East Elementary School fifth graders in Belleville was co-hosted by their teachers Jennifer McCarty, Brenda Ritterling and Connie Reedy, with patriotic songs conducted by music teacher Portia Schiltz. To accommodate the enthusiastic veterans community-wide, the program was held inside the historic Blair Theater in downtown Belleville, where the fifth graders hurriedly walked in an organized line in the frigid Kansas wind the four blocks from school, to welcome veterans inside the theater building.
Even before veterans arrived, each was already eagerly anticipating meeting the specific fifth grader who had handwritten and mailed a personal invitation to each vet, welcoming him or her to the Nov. 12 program. Veterans were encouraged to visit with the particular fifth grade student who had sent them the letter.
The veterans were treated to an uplifting collection of patriotic and inspirational songs, the music was interwoven with moments of special words from students taking the microphone, to speak from the heart. Directly addressing veterans, some students stated that even though these brave soldiers didn't personally know all the names and faces of the people they were defending back home in America, they never flinched; bravely fighting for and representing the United States. As the students sang, a choreographed power point presentation showing a collection of patriotic pictures drawn by the students and played on an oversize projector screen brought smiles, and sometimes tears to the vets and their families in the packed audience.
"This program has been going on for many years as a fifth grade project. It is just as special for our kids as it is for the veterans," said Katie Struebing, principal of East Elementary School. "Many people help make it a success; including teaching assistants, maintenance staff and the custodian. Several community partners also helped out."
In an energetic, regaling Armed Forces Salute, veterans were asked to stand, if possible, when their particular branch of service was mentioned in the song, coinciding with students raising the five flags representing the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
A notable highlight featured each veteran introducing themselves, sharing their branch of service, and the war in which they served, which included World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and others, as teachers passed the microphone to them down each seated row. The nearly 100 veterans and proud family members listened intently, to hear their words.
As veterans publicly thanked the student who sent the invitation, the children beamed and joyfully nudged each other, thrilled to be acknowledged by their invited soldier who bravely represented America.
"The lessons that these kids learn are lessons that can't be taught from a book," said Michael Couch, USD 109 School superintendent. "The kids hear firsthand stories of military service from men and women who greatly influence the lives of these kids. They're local heroes who have shaped students' character for the better."
The fifth graders sold Christmas wreaths from the local Kasl Christmas Tree Farm, with proceeds from wreath sales geared to the Veterans Day program and for the free lunch for vets and their families, after the program. A donation is also made to a veterans' organization.
After the students and audience saluted the American flag for the Pledge of Allegiance, the veterans version of the "Hallelujah" hymn was sung as a candle-lit student chorus shared the emotional words, relating to the stark realization of an often heart-wrenching day at war (SailorJerriMusic.com-Hallelujah). It was an emotional song that visibly impacted several in the audience.
"This program and the meal provided afterward, makes it a special day to honor their service, and it really becomes a community partnership honoring our veterans," Struebing said. "It's a way that we enjoy giving back." ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at email@example.com.