RACINE — Southern Local School District held their 14th annual Veterans Day Program on Monday, an event that includes the participation of students, faculty, and the Racine American Legion Post #602.
According to Supt. Tony Deem, himself a Gulf War veteran, he began the program when he first came to Southern.
“I believe the students learn more about Veteran’s Day by being in school and participating in this program than they would if they were off today. It is a way to honor our veterans and teach the students what the day means,” said Deem.
The morning began with a program for students in pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade lead by Elementary Principal Trisha McNickle. First graders sang patriotic songs and the Southern Band performed the National Anthem. First graders Libby Yonker and Kyndal Ohlinger led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Southern guidance counselor retired Major Russ Fields was the guest speaker, describing to the students what it was like to be in the military and some of the things the military did. Fields involved the students by asking questions.
The second program for 4th through 12th grades took on a more serious tone, recognizing fallen veterans and their sacrifices.
Racine American Legion Post #602 began both ceremonies with the Posting of Colors. Ciera Whitesell opened the program with “Letter to a Veteran.” High school Principal Daniel Otto then welcomed the Racine American Legion and all Veterans.
Southern High School Band, directed by Audra Wilkinson played the National Anthem and Student Council President Parker Corbitt led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The 11th Hour”, a video tribute to Veterans, was followed by guest speaker Fields. Fields served three deployments in Iraq before retiring, and shared a personal story of his reluctance to wear his uniform to church.
“When I came home to visit, I would go to church, and I didn’t want the attention that wearing my uniform invoked. I later came to realize it wasn’t about me, it was about what the uniform meant when I wore it, it was about honoring the military. People wanted to reach out, and I was the face, the representative, so I put on my uniform and went to church,” said Fields.
Fields said, “We were treated like gold,” referring to how soldiers returning from current engagements are received, “but it hasn’t always been so.” He said he was glad to see people had a change of heart in how they welcome soldiers home, unlike the negative reception some soldiers received during the Vietnam Conflict.
One of Fields’ duties when he was stateside was working in the Casualty Assistance Office, the group that works with the family and chaplain to organize memorial ceremonies for fallen soldiers. He described it as a difficult task, and gave an example of recovering the car of a serviceman killed in action in Iraq.
‘There was a parking garage where deployed soldiers could leave their cars. This soldier wasn’t coming home, so I had to get the car ready to give to his family. In the glove compartment were family photos, one of his three year old son. In the back seat was a Toys R Us bag with Spiderman pajamas that he planned to give his son.”
Fields said serving teaches you how to serve, and “we are always serving, always giving back.”
Veterans Day quotes were read by National Honor Society officers Addie Matson, Mickenzie Ferrell, Avery King, Coltin Parker, Raeven Reedy, and Baylee Wolfe, and a second video, “In the Arms of an Angel”, was played in tribute to American soldiers.
Each year a Veteran is selected as a special honoree — this year’s recipient was Retired Sergeant Allen Floyd Graham. Graham was born in Apple Grove, Ohio, and a 1962 graduate of Racine/Southern High School where he participated in basketball, baseball and track.
After high school, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corp. His first assignment was Pearl Harbor. Later he was assigned to Headquarters Battery, 2nd Field Artillery at Camp Lejeune. Graham earned the Good Conduct Medal two times, Expert Rifle Badge and the National Defense Service Medal and obtained the rank of Sergeant E-5 while serving. Since leaving the service in 1966, Graham has been a member of the Racine American Legion and is currently the Commander of the DAV, as well as being actively involved.
The program concluded with the roll call in memory of those that “made the ultimate sacrifice.” Deem and Ed Baker read the names as Student Council members tolled the bells and extinguished the candles, one for each fallen soldier.
Taps with Echo were played by Silas Nero and Claire Bradbury then sounded through a silent auditorium.
A reception followed for veterans and their families.