The opening ceremonies of McClain High School's Veterans Day program are shown from Nov. 11. (Photos by Angela Shepherd.)
The opening ceremonies of McClain High School's Veterans Day program are shown from Nov. 11. (Photos by Angela Shepherd.)
By Angela Shepherd

Patriotic hymns and red, white and blue in a variety of arrangements were but a couple of the ways students honored veterans last week across Greenfield Exempted Village Schools.

On Monday, McClain High School began by inviting veterans to breakfast. Following that was a program in the new gym.

With veterans of all ages and branches of the military seated in the center of the gym and students filling the bleachers, the program unfolded, peppered with patriotic songs — some sung by students, others played by the concert band.

Travis Snyder, a veteran and a teacher, was the special speaker. Throughout his presentation about what is means to be a veteran, he asked those present to consider a number of things: the willingness of a person in the military to lay it all on the line for the betterment of others; the family and friends of those who are deployed whose lives are changed, too, for the service of their loved one; and the coming home part, after a soldier has seen what they’ve seen and done what is done in times of war, and how hard it can be to reconcile the safety of home with the chaos of fighting and all the changes it brings to those who are a part of it.

“War is hell,” Snyder said. “It changes you in ways that you can’t explain.”

He spoke of how, once upon a time, soldiers returning home were celebrated. Then during Vietnam, returning soldiers were met with protestors. Now, soldiers are deployed and returning home every day.

He urged everyone to thank a veteran, not out of obligation, but for their willingness to sacrifice everything, for leaving their families to go off into hostile places in the name of freedom, and for those who didn’t and don’t make it home.

Near the conclusion of the program, with swinging, spinning, and flying guns, clicking heels, and the cadence of the synchronized movements of shined shoes and rifle butts pounded out on the wooden floor of the gymnasium, the McClain Cadet Corps Drill Team dazzled the crowd with its performance and was met with a standing ovation by veterans and students.

Following the program, veterans were invited to lunch with middle school students in the cafeteria, which had been decorated in red, white, and blue and with photographs of veterans. There were also paintings and drawings, a lot of which were crafted by the hands of elementary students.

The hallways of the middle school were lined with the red, white, and blue stars, each depicting a veterans name, and in one spot by the office on the first floor, forming the American flag. Doors throughout the middle school were also decorated to reflect the efforts of the students of that classroom to honor veterans, as well.

On Tuesday at Rainsboro Elementary, fifth grade students served lunch to veterans. A small way to show appreciation to those who have served our country, said Missy West, who is with the PTO and has helped organize the event for the last eight years.

On the tables were hand-colored, patriotic placemats and red, white,and blue foil decorations. On the placemats were hand-written messages from the student who made it to the veteran would sit there.

That lunch was followed by a program where the fifth graders took to the stage and raised their little voices in big songs and poems packed with heart and patriotism to honor veterans and the country they have fought for.

The Buckskin Elementary students on Thursday also sang these songs, the angel-like voices of the children raised in songs to honor those who have fought to keep this nation free.

At one point during both programs, which were each led by music teacher Victoria Mikkelsen, all were asked to stand for the singing of the national anthem. At another point, the children sang the songs of each military branch and held that branch’s flag during the song. All veterans were asked to rise during the playing of the song belonging to the branch they served with.

“May we never forget freedom isn’t free, and may we never forget you, our heroes,” recited a child toward the end of each program.

During the last song, a slide show played near the stage, every few seconds another veteran’s face and name would appear on the screen. Covering multiple generations, each photo had a powerful impact as one is looking on the face of someone who has dared to say they were willing to die for any one of us.

As the last song came to a close, a large American flag was unfurled by the students. They held it aloft, and with the movement of their hands beneath, the flag appeared to billow. It was a powerful end to the emotional programs.

There was clapping for the children, and there was clapping for those who have served and do serve our country.

In Buckskin, one veteran stood after the program and thanked the children for what they did.

Following the program in Rainsboro, with the fifth graders sitting on the risers on the stage as they waited to go back to their classrooms, they smiled. Some expressed being nervous about the performance, with one child lamenting at how quickly he talked through his speaking part. No matter the nervousness they felt before the program, they all agreed that it felt good to be able to show veterans their appreciation.

“Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” Rainboro Principal Maggie Lyons told the veterans on Tuesday. “You are our heroes.” This was followed by a very loud “thank you” from all the elementary students in the gymnasium.

After the Buckskin program, principal Mike Shumate led a chant among the students, the gymnasium filled with shouts of “USA.”

“Thank you,” Buckskin and Rainsboro students said to veterans near the end of their respective programs, “for making this the land of the free and the home of the brave.”