Nearly 200 fourth graders in matching t-shirts resounded in the Wallenpaupack Area High School gym last Monday night. They expressed in song their love for their country and its veterans.
Amanda Cykosky, Principal at Wallepaupack North Intermediate School, told the throng of parents and others present that military veterans who have served their country have much to teach the children in terms of leadership and responsibility. She suggested that the preparation the children did for the 11th annual Veterans Day program shows the gratitude and respect that the fourth graders have for them.
Mayor Kevin Hawk made presentations to the first place essay winners, on behalf of the American Legion, Sons of the American Legion and his office as Hawley Mayor. First place winners, Corson Schweizer (Grade 3), Ashley Lachman (Grade 4) and Timothy Stopyra (Grade 5) each read their essay to the assembly.
Local veterans posted the Colors, leading a procession of vets from the audience around the gym, none seeming to have forgotten the drill. James Strasser and Justin Roberts, both US Army, conducted the Wreath Laying ceremony. Taps were played by Laura Bibbs and Emily Martone of the WAHS Marching Band.
The children sang the United States Armed Forces songs, with veterans in the crowd rising in turn when their song was heard. Loriann Kerber, WNIS Music Director, led the fourth graders with numerous patriotic songs and the Alma Mater.
Bill Long, a Marine Corps/Army National Guard veteran and member of VFW Post 531 in Honesdale (as well as a Wallenpaupack graduate), brought introductory remarks. First defining veterans, he went on to answer why they were needed. Relating this to school children, he told a story about a class wondering what happened to their desks. A group of veterans then filed in, each one carrying a desk. The students learned that the it was the veterans who earned the right for the children to have a desk, and it was up to the children to be responsible, to sit and learn well.
General Daniel O'Neill, a Wayne County native who rose to the rank of Major General in the PA National Guard, is also a retired educator and former superintendent from Wayne Highlands. In his keynote remarks, O'Neill spoke of how school children during World War II did their part in the war effort, who along with adults made necessary sacrifices.
He also used the example of twin brothers Earl and Joe Granville from Carbondale, who joined the National Guard and twice deployed together overseas. In 2007, Earl deployed to Afghanistan, where he was badly injured by a roadside bomb, losing his left leg. Joe had not deployed to Iraq as expected since his wife was deployed instead. In 2010, Joe took his own life.
"Earl has since done amazing things," said O'Neill, who has known the family for a long time. Earl Granville is now studying to be a counselor to help wounded veterans. Not considering himself "handicapped," Earl is both a runner and a snow-boarder.
Page 2 of 2 - O'Neill asked if our young people today will step forward for their country. "Absolutely they will," he said. Looking at the fourth grade class, he commented that some of them will one day be regarded as heroes and some will also be veterans. "God bless the veterans... and God bless the young people we have," O'Neill said.