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District 153 students honor veterans with abbreviated event

From left, John Beele, Paul Klimczak and, behind the flag, Mike Ritchowski begin to raise the American flag as part of a ceremony honoring veterans who have died. The ceremony was part of the annual veterans appreciation event at James Hart School in Homewood. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

At least it wasn’t snowing.

The annual Veterans Day event at James Hart School was limited by COVID-19 protocols and periods of rain, but as organizer John Beele and District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister noted, past years have seen worse weather, including snow.

The brief event still got to the heart of the matter. Students had an opportunity to thank veterans for their service, and veterans, likewise, got to thank students for showing their appreciation.

“The weather can’t detract from what the day is all about, which is honoring and respecting our veterans,” McAlister said. “For all of our veterans, thank you so much for what you’ve done for all of us.”

Student council members delivered a number of cards that were created by students in the three District 153 schools, Churchill, Willow and James Hart, and shook hands with veterans representing the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

An early morning flag raising ceremony was accompanied by the performance of Taps by James Hart musicians under the direction of Matt Johnson.

Wally Burns VFW Post 8077 Commander John Beele thanks James Hart students for hosting a veterans appreciation event on Thursday, Nov. 11. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Veterans at the event included Chester Wlodarski, who served in the Navy; Mike Ritchowski, Air Force; Paul Klimczak, Air Force; Chuck Funke, Army; and master of ceremonies John Beele, a Marine Corps veteran and commander of the Wally Burns VFW Post 8077.

Klimczak, who is the assistant director of buildings and grounds at James Hart, said the event was very much appreciated by veterans.

“I am so proud of this community, the way they come out for their veterans,” he said.

Beele reminisced about past Veterans Day events at the school, which included a big breakfast, speeches and more music. He and McAlister said they hoped to resume that practice when it’s safe to do so.

“We know how much it means to you to have us be here, to be able to tell you our story about being veterans,” Beele said. “We thank you for honoring us.”

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