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Schools honor local veterans

Photo by Michael Kelly Veterans stand with their children and grandchildren at Harmar Elementary School as Brandon Burnworth, son of teacher Anne Burnworth, to his right, speaks at the end of the school's annual Veterans Day ceremony Friday.

Schools across Washington County paid tribute to active duty military personnel and veterans Friday in advance of Veterans Day on Monday.

At Marietta High School, Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton opened an early-morning program with his memories of World War II veteran and POW Robert Pioli.

“He attended last year but has since passed away,” Hampton said. “He was a member of the greatest generation and a World War II prison camp survivor.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, spoke to the students in the auditorium, telling them that the United States is unique in that it is on “a perpetual journey to figure out who we are.”

“Every generation has the challenge to write the next chapter,” he said. “It’s a tremendous responsibility, and your day is coming.”

Photo by Michael Kelly A group of Marine Corps veterans stands as the Marietta High School Cantabile choir sings the Marine Hymn during Veterans Day ceremonies at the school auditorium Friday morning.

Essays written by students in each grade were read aloud, with the senior essay by Andrew Kingry being on the first black regiment to go into combat in the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts that fought its first battle at Fort Wagner. More than a third of the regiment died.

“They served the greater good, even if the greater good had not served them,” he said.

Regis Kern, a decorated Vietnam veteran, talked about his fellow soldiers.

“They are from all walks of life, but one thing they had in common was to serve a cause larger than themselves,” he said. “They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting. They did it to protect our nation.”

John Sprigg served with the Marines in Vietnam from 1963-67. After the program, he said the playing of Taps offstage at the conclusion stirred up memories.

Photo by Michael Kelly World War II veteran Francis Sampson thanks fourth-grade teacher Michele Oliver for a flower presented to him during the Waterford Elementary School Veterans Day tribute on Friday.

“I had mixed emotions when they played that,” he said. “I’m really impressed with the young people, they did an outstanding job, showed real respect. I feel good about our young people.”

Senior Nicholas Simon said he already is a member of the National Guard.

“Actually, I don’t even feel right about being recognized for that, compared to the veterans from Vietnam, what they went through,” he said. Simon said his father is in the Air Force, his mother was in the Navy, and he has brothers in the Army and the Navy.

Sophomore Kirsten Kroft said her grandfather served in Vietnam and her great grandfathers were World War II veterans, but she isn’t considering military service.

“This was a really good event today, it’s a good thing to show our respect to the veterans, how important they are to us,” she said.

Later in the morning, hundreds of students and their guests crowded into the gymnasium at Harmar Elementary School.

“We’re thrilled to have so many guests today,” principal Cheryl Cook said. “The sad part is that so many who have been here in the past can no longer come. I’d like to think they’re here in spirit, and in our hearts.”

A small group of fifth graders had the elite duty of bringing in the flags of the service branches. Banners created by students lined the walls, dedicated to veterans who were special in their lives. The 19-member school choir sang patriotic songs, and three students read compositions about veterans.

At the conclusion, the veterans – more than 20 of them – stood at the front of the gym with any students related to them and announced their period and branch of service.

“It was good to be here with my grandson,” Navy veteran Mike Frank said after the program. “I’m honored to be part of this, to know that people care.”

Fifth-grader Seth Goeller said his part in the program was a privilege.

“It was an honor to perform for them,” he said.

At Waterford Elementary School in the afternoon, more than 20 veterans, including American Legion Chapter 389 members from Beverly in dress uniform, and dozens of guests sat in rows as students read, sang and presented messages. Third graders called out “thank you” in the phonetic alphabet used by radio operators, and the fourth grade improvised three painted panels as the Billy Ray Cyrus recording of “All Gave Some, Some Gave All” played.

Outside the gym afterward, Noah Armstrong stood with his two grandchildren, Waterford Elementary students he is raising. Armstrong served in the Army from 1977-81.

“I’ve come here every year, first for my kids, then for my grandkids,” he said. “It means a lot to me.”

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

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