The sounds of celebrating Veterans Day in the Mid-Ohio Valley this week ranged from hundreds of children's voices singing patriotic songs to silence as a gymnasium full of high school students considered words and images depicting the sacrifices of soldiers.
With Veterans Day falling on a Sunday this year and some schools off to observe the holiday on Monday, students took time in different ways and on different days to learn about and honor those who have served America.
Some veterans attended multiple ceremonies Thursday and Friday, like Regis Kern, commander of American Legion Post 64 in Marietta and who earned two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars serving in the Army in Vietnam. Kern said such programs not only benefit children by educating them about military service but also the veterans by allowing them to share their stories and see appreciation for that service.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Little Hocking Elementary kindergarteners, from left, Luke Johnson, Payton Layne, Laci Thompson and Owen Rohr join in the pledge of allegiance at the start of a Veterans Day program Thursday at their school.
"I think it's important that you share the stories," said Kern who spoke at events at Little Hocking Elementary and Williamstown High School. "When I got out of the Army, they said you shouldn't talk about things. ... And now that's changing. It's just good therapy."
A number of area schools held events Thursday and Friday or scheduled them for next week. Here are highlights from a few of them:
Belpre High School
Although there were hundreds of students in the bleachers, plus about 30 veterans and several other guests in chairs on the basketball court, Belpre's gym was strikingly quiet Friday afternoon.
The silence first descended as the group watched a video presentation put together by junior Mariah Inghram that featured patriotic music and images showing soldiers in combat, helping children in foreign countries, looking physically and emotionally exhausted after battle, coming home to embrace their families and coming home in flag-draped caskets.
"I felt like this was my way to honor them," Inghram said. "I really wanted to show the good and the bad."
Quiet continued as West Virginia Army National Guard Sgt. Nathan Greene, who has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Djibouti and whose wife works at the school, took the microphone and suggested students Google the term "national debt" as he'd done recently. He looked through 56 pages of results and didn't find what he was seeking.
"Every single one of the pages dealt with government over-spending for one country or another," he said. "Not one brought up our biggest national debt of all, and that is the national debt owed to our veterans."
While Greene said he didn't begrudge anyone success, he questioned the values of a culture that elevates achievers in the athletic, musical and financial realms over the soldiers who fight and die to protect the nation.
"Can anyone other than Christ alone say they have carried a heavier burden than a soldier?" Greene said. "No accomplishment done in the safety and security of our borders can match what our men and women in uniform have accomplished over the years."
More than two dozen veterans related to students and staff attended Harmar Elementary's annual celebration Friday morning, in which the choir performed patriotic music and red, white and blue balloons were released around 11 a.m. in honor of the armistice that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
The highlight of the event is when the veterans stand around the gym with their loved ones and introduce themselves.
Title I reading teacher Anne Burnworth couldn't help but laugh when her son, Ohio Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Brandon Burnworth, introduced himself as "Mrs. Burnworth's baby boy."
"I think it's an exciting and amazing tribute to people who served, and I'm proud to be a part of it," he said afterward.
Brandon Burnworth served one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan and even went to the South Pole two years ago to use his skills as a C-130 mechanic to support the National Science Foundation's Antarctica mission. His mother said she is grateful to have him back in the states.
"Families serve as well because when they're out of the country in harm's way, every day you're thinking about them," she said.
Williamstown Elementary second-graders continued a more-than-20-year-old tradition Thursday evening with an assembly for veterans.
"It was the culmination of having guest speakers and lessons on being patriotic and how we live in a free country," said second-grade teacher Diane Hickey.
Among those speakers was the grandfather of one of Hickey's students, Riley Oblisk, who described his service in the Navy.
"It was great," Oblisk said. "He called me up to hold his book and hold his poster."
During Thursday's event, students donned sparkling red, white and blue hats and sang patriotic tunes. Second-grader Dylan Baumgard agreed it was a fun evening, but said he saw several people in the audience "really emotional" when the children sang "God Bless the USA."
"I even saw, I think, my Papaw's eyes were watering because he was in the Air Force," he said.
One of the things a speaker shared that struck Baumgard most was that military service is "not about being in the war, it's about trying to help people and protect them."
More than 40 area veterans joined kindergarten through eighth-graders in Little Hocking Elementary School's gymnasium Thursday for a Veterans Day program before spending the rest of the day in classrooms sharing their experiences with students.
The school has held the celebration for 12 years, but it was the first time Cutler resident and Army veteran Donnie McKnight, 28, had attended. His family recently moved into the district and his children now attend Little Hocking.
"I lost a lot of friends" in the military, he said. "It just makes you so grateful that you get to come back and ... watch your kids grow up when so many guys didn't get that opportunity."
The veterans gathered for a breakfast prior to the morning ceremony, with 80-year-old Belpre resident Harold Riley joking with two younger veterans at his table that they had to join the Army because they "couldn't get into the Marines."
After the ceremony in the school gym, Riley said he appreciated the event's theme of "Welcome Home." When he returned from Vietnam, he said he landed in California and was told to take a bus to the airport then fly home.
"That was our welcome," he said.
Little Hocking students lined the hallway as their veteran guests walked from the breakfast to the gym. The children held signs expressing appreciation, and some shook hands with the veterans as they passed.
"I think it's a special time for the veterans," said fifth-grader Kirom Howell.
"I think it's really cool that they come to our school," added classmate Lacey Atherton.
Fort Frye High School
Fort Frye history teacher Bobbi Webb wanted to try a different approach to observing Veterans Day this year. Instead of an assembly, seventh- through 12th-graders in history classes at the school are writing letters of thanks to more than 200 veterans in the Beverly, Waterford and Lowell areas.
Webb said it was important to her that local veterans be involved, so the students would know exactly who they were honoring.
"They really enjoyed it," she said of the students. "A lot of them were able to write their relatives - their uncles and grandpas."
The students are also sending letters and care packages to members of a U.S. Marine Corps unit based in Columbus and currently serving in Iraq.