From music to poetry, Saratoga School students had a chance Friday afternoon to say one thing to area veterans before Veterans Day: Thank you.
Near the end of the school day, students in grades 5 through 8 gathered in the gym for the annual Veterans Day Assembly, which featured music from the school’s choirs and band, and student speakers sharing their own poems for Veterans Day and letters to veterans.
Ken Buck, commander of Morris American Legion Post 294, was the guest speaker for the afternoon. He told the crowd the day is observed every year on Nov. 11 on Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I.
He also said a veteran is defined as anyone who has served in the armed forces.
“I’ve always considered a veteran to be a regular person,” he said, a regular person who has raised their right arm and sworn to uphold the Constitution and defend the U.S.
He shared his story of becoming a veteran. While many join the service for different reasons, he said his was a path he found in college at Northern Illinois University.
“As a young man in high school, I was not sure of what I wanted to do in college,” he said.
At NIU, he joined the Army ROTC program, eventually being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Army. He described serving in Germany during the Cold War, seeing it before the Berlin Wall was taken down and after, and going to serve in the Middle East during the Gulf War.
He recalled losing several fellow troops in his unit there.
“It was one of those things you didn’t expect to happen,” he said of going to war. “It’s just something that happens.”
After Buck spoke, Principal Joe Zweeres took a moment to recognize veterans in the audience from each of the military branches. He encouraged students to show their gratitude for veterans by voicing it to the ones they meet, either through events like the assembly or if they encounter a veteran in uniform.
“Tell them ‘Thank you, — ‘Thank you for your service and sacrifices for our country,’” he said.
After the assembly, Coal City resident Donald Reece, a Korean War veteran who served in the U.S. Army, said the program was interesting.
“I think they did a good job,” he said.
He added that the message from Buck about Veterans Day was “just the facts” — but said he was glad to see the day’s message continue.
“It’s interesting to see that they’re carrying this on for years and years,” he said.
Buck said he enjoys taking part in events like it in the schools.
“I think it went really well,” he said. “I’m really proud of the fact that over the last several years in Morris, all the schools have started doing programs like this.”
He said his hope would be that students learn about the reason for Veterans Day.
“It’s nice that we’re teaching the kids that it’s more than just a day off,” he said.
Zweeres said the assembly is a chance to bring veterans in and recognize them, as well as to teach the students about the veterans’ service.
“It’s just a really nice ‘Thank You,’” he said. “I think it’s really good for them to see veterans, hear them speak, and get a taste for what they have done for us and what they continue to do for us.”