Veterans Day events in community and school honored those who serve

PAT FRIDGEN and AUBREE POOLE, Echo Pilot
Veterans and Boy Scouts saluted the flag prior to the Retrieval of Colors at the Greencastle-Antrim Veterans Memorial. For more photos go to the photo gallery section.

The message was the same, though the words varied, as audiences of 100 listened to Veterans Day speakers in Greencastle on Sunday.

Citizens had opportunities to honor veterans, and to cherish the freedoms they guaranteed, said Ken Womack and Lt. Col. Joe Ignazzitto.

Veterans themselves, they gave examples of the way America has recognized its own since Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918.

At the 11 a.m. ceremony at borough hall, Womack, retired Air Force officer and Greencastle borough manager, noted President Woodrow Wilson called reflections on the day "filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory."

The nation kept the tradition alive on Nov. 11, with the exception of 1968-1977, when the observance was moved to a Monday to give federal workers a three-day weekend. The states and veterans organizations successfully lobbied to switch it back. Womack said that preserved the historical significance of the date, and helped people focus on what was important - honoring America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

And after paying respects, he continued, it was important for the public to participate in the opportunities safeguarded by the military - to vote, become involved in local government, get an education, and volunteer to make the community a better place. He closed with the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

"I regard (the soldier) as one of the world's noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give."

Ignazzitto, an active duty Army Reserve officer assigned to the Carlisle Barracks, was featured at An Evening Tribute to Veterans, sponsored by the  Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce, at the high school.

He began with a moment of silence, aware that Americans are uncomfortable with the stillness, compared to fireworks and songs. At the first observance, President Wilson held two full minutes of silence. "They thought it was the war to end all wars."

With the country involved in many conficts over the past 93 years, Ignazzitto credited the military with accomplishing the remarkable. He referred to two recent Medal of Honor recipients. Sgt. Dakota Meyer defied orders and rescued 36 wounded Afghans and fellow Marines in 2009. Leslie Sabo, Jr., Army SP4, died in Cambodia in 1970 after heroically protecting his platoon in an ambush.

"They represent all veterans," he said. "Our men and women have superb training and the example of those who came before them."

The purpose of Veterans Day was to remember those who gave the best years of their lives, he continued. They had the gratitude of the nation.

For the students

Unlike many of their peers in the United States, Greencastle-Antrim School District students didn’t spend the official observance of Veterans Day Monday with a free day out of school. Instead the local youngsters used the day as a learning experience.

Both the middle and high schools each commemorated Veterans Day with assemblies to honor the United State military and pay tribute to veterans.

In the high school

The presentation of the colors by representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion in Greencastle began the high school assembly, followed by the singing and playing of The Star Spangled Banner by the choir and band, and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The guest speaker was Lt. Col. Corey Spoonhour, a 20-year retired veteran of the United States Air Force, currently employed at the Pentagon. He had a slide show presentation, introducing himself and listing who should be honored on this day of commemoration. His presentation addressed all branches of the military, including the Marines, the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the National Guard. Spoonhour read the military Oath of Enlistment, challenging the students to ponder the words and their ramifications.

The high school band then played, and the choir, led by Roz Bingaman and accompanied by senior Jared Poper on the piano sung “Hero's Pledge”, a song written to honor the memory of local fallen soldier, Benjamin Bitner. Bitner, an alumnus of the school, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.

Senior Aaron Tressler described The Glorious and the Brave, a DVD and book that was presented to the public last year. Centered around veterans from World War I and II, 100 copies of the book were produced sold out within five minutes on opening night A check for $1,000 from the proceeds of the book and DVD was presented by Tressler to a representative from the Wounded Warriors Project. This is the first of many checks, the second of which was to be presented to the Holocaust Museum on Nov. 14.

In the middle school

Middle school students got a head start on the commemoration with an assembly Friday morning, Nov. 9. A performance from the band and the presentation of the colors by the local veteran organization began the assembly.

Students from the G-AMS choir then proceeded down the aisles, carrying battery-powered candles as a slide show played listing the names of G-AMS students and their relatives who were serving or had served in the military.

Two students, Jenna Carty and Marissa Smith, then read a poem entitled, “I've got your Back,” which spoke of the dedication of the men and women defending our freedom and the security that they provide for us.

Sergeant Garris, the speaker for the assembly, then stood and offered thanks to all those in attendance, along with a reminder to call family members or friends who have served in the military and thank them for their sacrifice.

Students Tyler Douglas and Matt Mowen read poems entitled, “It is the Soldier”, and “Let's Honor the Military.”

The assembly concluded with an invitation to stand if a family member or friend had served in the military. There were few dry eyes as the entire auditorium got to its feet and applauded.