Veterans welcomed by Belleville, Kan., 5th graders
for The Fence Post
“If I were in the service, with each passing day when I look into the face of a soldier, I wonder if I would be as strong as you?” asked one fifth grader of the packed audience of veterans.
“What if I was a soldier? I wonder where I would go?” another student pondered aloud, as the fifth grade class of East Elementary School in Belleville, Kan., drew a swirl of emotions from the packed crowd of veterans. Reminiscing about sacred war time was the foundation of a spirited patriotic appreciation program hosted by the 39 fifth graders on Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Passionately thanking veterans through poems and songs, the students joyfully sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “God Bless America,” the National Anthem, and the U.S. Armed Forces Medley of the anthems of the various branches of the United States military, consisting of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and the Marines.
“It was an amazing program. It’s nice to see the kids being taught and not just thinking that veterans are older people who just kill others. It’s nice to have a program like this for vets,” said veteran Josh Garst of Scandia, Kan., who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“This was very special, and it’s my first time to be invited,” said Logan Copple who served in the U.S. Air Force as a financial management analyst, traveling to 13 countries in 25 days in the service from 2010 to 2016, including Spain and Africa. Copple handled the base budget at McChord Air Force base in Washington state.
“On this day, I always remember the people I served with when I was in the Army, and the memories I had from my time in the service, and I’m proud of the fact that I served my country,” said Larry Hadachek, who served as an aircraft crew chief with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War 1971-1974.
Veterans sent in requested military photos of themselves, and watched a slide presentation which reproduced their photos up on the theater’s screen.
“Did you know that the colors of the flag stand for something?” asked one fifth grader of the audience. “Red is for bravery and strength, white is for purity, and blue is for perseverance and justice. We show patriotism every time we pledge allegiance to the flag and sing the national anthem,” recited several students to the audience. “On Veterans Day, it’s important to honor all the men and women who fought for our country,” said another student.
A highlight of the fifth graders program, was then listening intently as each veteran in the crowd stood and introduced himself or herself, and named their branch of military service. Many also thanked the individual student who wrote them a personal letter; inviting them to this appreciation day.
“It’s important to show appreciation for the vets who have died and fought for our country,” said fifth grader Ashley Popelka, as she welcomed the arriving soldiers. Standing with Ashley — ready to greet veterans — was another fifth grader Gavyn Pickard. “I think it gives respect and honor for the vets who fought for us, and to have the strength to carry on,” Pickard said about what he likes most about hosting members of the military on Veterans Day.
“I like being here because I get to know the veterans more,” said fifth grader Jasmine Rabah.
Veterans were encouraged to take time after the program, to visit with the particular student who invited them. Many students looked for, and found their veteran at a courtesy lunch in the elementary school gymnasium following the presentation, and looked fascinated to meet and hear their heartfelt stories, and get to know them.
“It’s been great to see veterans coming in with their pictures and sharing stories with the students,” USD 109 School Superintendent Michael Couch told The Fence Post, “And then also seeing our kids interact and get to know the level of service and sacrifice that was given to enjoy the freedom we have today.”
When The Fence Post asked U.S. Army veteran Jim Hudson of Courtland, Kan., what it was like serving in Korea (1969-’70) Hudson paused and said, “It was hell. I wouldn’t go back.” He added, “This program today was great.”
Veteran John Shelly intently recorded the elementary school students singing on his smartphone. Watching his own fifth grade child in the program on stage, Shelly, who was a light-wheel mechanic in the U.S. Army from 1999-2016, was deployed four times in Kuwait, Iraq (twice) and Egypt.
Another veteran Les Novak of Munden, Kan., who was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1969 said, “this program today was really, really good. It was excellent.”
As he walked away, another Army veteran was humming much beloved lyrics he just heard the students singing.
“Then it’s Hi! Hi! Hee! In the field artillery.
Shout out your numbers loud and strong.
For where e’er you go, you will always know…
That those caissons go rolling along.”
— 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.