Valuing vets

The Wapakoneta community came out to honor the nation’s veterans during the Wapakoneta Middle School’s (WMS) annual tribute to local heroes.
“It will never be equal to what they do for us,” WMS Student Council President Katie Engle said. “We want them to know we appreciate what they do for our country.”
She said student council members organized the event to give thanks to veterans’ many sacrifices and she thought the choirs and music were what made the assembly special.
“When every grade started singing, I think that’s what
See VETS, Page 8A
really got to the veterans’ hearts,” Engle said. “It’s really awesome to see our school thanking the veterans. We’ve been putting more and more effort into it every year.”
Student Council Adviser Joni Wade said she has been organizing this event for the past four years, but the veteran’s assembly has been a WMS tradition for more than 10 years.
She said the way the students treat the veterans — respectfully and with honor — is what makes the ceremony important.
“I’ve had veterans say to me ‘Every kid acts like I’m important,’” Wade said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Wade said she and the student council members try to improve the assembly every year. She said the ceremony brought in more than twice the amount of veterans this year, which is what made the assembly special to her.
She said there was one moment during the assembly that moved her.
“This was the first year to have a student play ‘Taps,’” Wade said. “That almost made me cry when I saw that boy play.”
WMS student Matthew Green played “Taps” on his trumpet.
There were many demonstrations to honor the veterans, including a skit called “Make a Difference” performed by the student council. The skit was a true story about a woman who gave a donation to help a military family.
WMS sixth-grade choir sang “Unsung Hero” and the WMS band played “American Spirit March.” The Wapakoneta High School Men’s Choir performed “Tell My Father” and the WMS seventh-grade choir ensemble performed “Blades of Grass and Pure White Stones.”
Multiple speakers honored the veterans in attendance with words of gratitude and respect.
Freedom’s Colors organizer Ralph Reynolds spoke during the assembly about the need to thank veterans. He said he was grateful to the students for hosting the veterans event.
“The teachers and staff always show patriotic values and respect for our veterans,” Reynolds said.
Playing each branch of the military’s patriotic anthem, Reynolds requested every veteran in the audience to stand when the anthem for the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines played.
Reynolds said it is important for youth to know the importance of serving in the military — to understand the benefits soldiers give to the country.
“We hear too much about the negatives,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of good and importance in our military, too.”
Keynote speaker Rev. Dave Ross stressed the importance of citizens knowing the number of veterans who have served and who have died serving the United States throughout each war.
He asked students who knew why soldiers fight in wars. Almost every student raised their hand.
Ross chose a student, who replied “for our freedom.”
Silence filled the gymnasium during Ross’ presentation of the lyrics to “Taps.”
“I’ve never been in a more patriotic community than this,” speaker Lt. Col. Matthew Hodge, commander of Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, said.
Hodge said he takes every opportunity he gets to tell the community about the sacrifices of veterans.
“I like to remind folks that the military is still serving in Afghanistan,” Hodge said. “There are 23 million American veterans today.”
During the assembly, Hodge had 10 student council students stand in front of the audience. He told nine to take a seat. That is the ratio of citizens to military members, he said.
“When it comes time to stand up — will you stand up?” Hodge told the students.
Principal Wes Newland said he was proud of the middle school students for organizing the event.
“I’m proud of every student, staff member, and our community,” Newland said. “It’s important for all of our kids to acknowledge how privileged we are to be American citizens.”
Newland said the assembly honored an “Important part of our heritage.” He said it was inspiring to see the students ask for a standing ovation for the veterans.
“That tells me they get it — they didn’t need to be prompted,” Newland said.
Veteran Mark Woten, who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, came to the ceremony because his daughter, Olivia, is involved with student council.
“It means a lot to me,” Woten said about the ceremony. “This makes youth aware what serving our country means and how important it is.”
Olivia said her job in council was to help set up for the hundreds of guests, including veterans, their family members and community members.
She said the students chose to participate because they believe it is important to show appreciation.
“We need to thank our veterans for serving,” Olivia said. “I think that’s important.”