Wapakoneta Middle School students hosted its 12th annual Veterans Day Celebration Program Monday in the school’s gymnasium.
While there was no official count on the number of veterans attending the event, Alyissa Horn, a seventh-grader and Student Council president, said they typically have “a couple hundred veterans” and the turnout is growing each year.
“Most of the veterans attending are family members of the students, but not all of them,” Horn said. “We try to get the word out to everyone.”
Horn said the program is a way the students can honor those who put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of the country.
“We want to show our appreciation,” Horn said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do the things we do every day.”
After enjoying punch and cookies in the cafeteria, all of the veterans attending walked from the cafeteria through the hall through a tunnel of flags being held by students into the entrance of the gymnasium. The veterans were then met by an eruption of applause by the student body.
Jeff Tracy, a local veteran who served in the Vietnam War, told the crowd he was proud of his service. However, it was many years later before that pride set in.
“I thought it was a political war without an agenda,” Tracy said. “We didn’t obtain many objectives. When I first came back, I wasn’t appreciated. I got to the point where if I was talking to someone who didn’t know, I denied being a veteran.”
However, it was a chance meeting with another soldier approximately 10 years later when he come to realization of the significance of his contribution to the country.
“You can always tell when you meet someone who just got out of the field,” Tracy said. “I was sitting by a guy who just got out of the field. I asked him if he just left the field, and he said, ‘Yes I did.’ We sit there and talked for a three-hour plane ride.”
Tracy said he remembered the soldier being 22, coming home with his whole life in front of him. The soldier planned to return to the Chicago area and become a firefighter.
“I remember passing on some advice that my father always gave me,” Tracy said. “You can’t let it be the biggest thing that happens in your life. If that’s the biggest thing in your life, you are done. Take every day as they come.”
Tracy closed his conversation with the soldier as they were about to exit the plane.
“He asked me my name,” Tracy said. “I didn’t tell him my name. I just told him I was a proud Vietnam veteran. I was a lot prouder after that. I believe I was destined to sit by that guy.”
Student Council members presented a skit, and the Wapakoneta Middle School and the Wapakoneta High School choirs performed fitting patriotic songs. The Wapakoneta Middle School band also performed for the crowd.
Fifth-grade class members recited a poem, entitled, “The American Hero.”
Tracy said he liked to see the students take the initiative and hold the event.
“You look around and you know they are all somebody’s somebody,” Tracy said. “You can tell by some of the things the kids are wearing that it had an effect on their lives. The kids sit down and ask questions and introduce themselves. You know it is important to them.”
Tracy was drafted into the service on his father’s birthday, and his first day in Vietnam was on his mother’s birthday. He said the military had a major impact on him as his father also was a veteran.
“It was sad the day I left my mother,” Tracy said. “But I learned all kinds of things in the service, I learned the meaning of compassion and the true meaning of fear. True fear is a big motivator.”
Tracy concluded his speech by saying to all the veterans, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
School members also presented a $1,000 check to Ralph Reynolds, of the Wapakoneta Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8445. The money was raised by the students during its activity night in September.