Gratitude was flowing in both directions when veterans and students gathered at Homewood’s James Hart School Friday for District 153’s annual veterans appreciation breakfast.
Student musicians and veterans John Beele, commander of Wally Burns VFW Post 8077, J. Stevens and Don Tollefsen braved chilly temperatures and the season’s first light snow to provide the sounds for the flag ceremony conducted outside the school’s main entrance.
As the group of veterans headed back to the school’s cafeteria, they were greeted by students lining the halls and holding hand-made signs with expressions of gratitude for the veterans’ service to the country.
Beele said that outward recognition “was very heartwarming.”
There were a few hugs along the way as veterans saw friends and family members among the students.
“This reminds me of the Honor Flight,” said school board president Shelly Marks. The students’ greeting resembled the hero’s welcome veterans get when they participate in the special Honor Flight program that takes them to the nation’s capital to visit war memorials.
Marks said this year’s turnout for the veterans event was larger than in previous years. Marks was joined by fellow board members Greg Lawrence and Ashanti Bethea.
Students, staff and administrators treated veterans to a school assembly performance that included music and a few history lessons.
After the choir sang the national anthem, band director Matthew Johnson provided a brief history of how Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the Star-Spangled Banner in 1814 after observing the shelling of Fort McHenry while imprisoned on a British ship in Baltimore harbor.
Superintendent Dale Mitchell provided a history of Veterans Day, from its beginning as Armistice Day at the end of World War I to its renaming in 1954 to broaden the recognition to include the service of all veterans.
The Symphonic Band performed the musical theme for each branch of the service — Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force — as veterans of each branch stood to be recognized.
Mitchell thanked Johnson and fellow music teachers Adrienne Olsen, choir director, and Sara White, orchestra director, for their leadership. He then turned his attention to the students thanking them for their contributions.
“We are a stronger place because of the way we work together,” he said. “I’m so proud of the students and the way you performed.”
Veterans echoed that sentiment, including Beele, who noted with appreciation the way local students regularly share their talents and participate in important community events.
“We are so proud of you for what you do for us veterans on this day, and at the Memorial Day parade, graduation. All of the things you guys do touches our lives,” he said.
Stevens and Tollefsen demonstrated the proper way to fold the American flag during veterans’ funeral ceremonies before presenting the flag to the family of the deceased. Beele explained the meaning behind each fold.
As veterans were treated to a complimentary breakfast, their family members joined them.
Army veteran Robert Berry and his daughter, Jordan Berry, a seventh-grader, shared a table with Owen Eahart, a sixth-grader, and his grandfather, Ray Neumann, a Marine Corps veteran.
Both veterans said they were grateful for the event.
“I think it was over the top, terrific,” Neumann said.
Berry said the music was very impressive.
The final musical performance was led by Beele and about a dozen Marines who created an impromptu choir to sing all three verses of the “Marines’ Hymn” in honor of the Marine Corps’ Nov. 10 birthday.
Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle