The group of James Hart School musicians sounding taps during the Veterans Day flag-raising ceremony on Nov. 10 had a novel experience. Sunshine.
District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister and VFW Post 8077 Commander John Beele both remarked on the fortunate weather for the school’s annual event honoring local veterans.
“We’ve been doing this now for at least five years, but this is the first time I remember sunshine,” McAlister said. “But even when it’s been snowing on us, it’s one of the highlights of the year for us to come out and honor our veterans and their family members.”
The unusual weather aside, the event followed the pattern of past events, with veterans and family members spending some time chatting in the cafeteria before a patriotic assembly in their honor.
As veterans filed into the gymnasium, a slide show displayed photos of veterans with their names, branch of service and the District 153 students or staff members they are related to.
After the assembled students, staff and veterans recited the pledge of allegiance and stood for the national anthem, Band Director Matt Johnson told the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” including a brief documentary about the experience that inspired Frances Scott Key to write the words that would become the national anthem.
McAlister explained why the school hosts the Veterans Day event every year.
“For a lot of people, today is a day off of school. We used to take Veterans Day off as well,” he said. “And then we realized that if you really want to honor veterans, the way you do it is not by sleeping in, it’s to come in and learn a little about their sacrifice.”
McAlister provided a brief history of each of the nation’s armed forces. The band then performed the theme for each branch, and veterans stood when the theme for the branch they served in was played.
“I don’t know that there’s really a higher calling than giving of yourself for something that is pretty idealistic, a nation,” he said. “America has a lot of problems. We know that. It’s not a perfect nation. However, I would argue it is still the greatest nation in the world for one reason. People literally die every day trying to get here, because it is so much better than where they’re coming from.
“Those freedoms that people are trying to get, they happen because of the individuals that are seated up here,” he said, gesturing to the veterans in attendance.
Beele thanked the students and staff for the program.
“We’re very proud to be Americans, very proud to be part of this community and god bless us all, and thank you James Hart for your kind invitation each year,” Beele said.
At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, the VFW Wally Burns Post 8077 held its own ceremony at the veterans memorial at the intersection of Harwood Avenue and Olive Road in Homewood.
Marine veteran Don Tollefsen sounded taps on a ceremonial bugle, and Commander John Beele led remarks by several local veterans, including Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld.
“In school, we used to face east in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (the moment the World War I armacist was signed). It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Unfortunately, it wasn’t,” he said. “We are in a precarious situation now. let’s hope that our leadership has the ability and wisdom to do the right thing.”
Jack Leavitt, commander of the local Jewish War Veterans organization, also spoke.
“This day is especially important to me. My father, Ben Leavitt, fought over in Europe during World War I. He got a Purple Heart,” he said. “He was there on the original armistice day. He was in France the day the war ended.”
He said his father told many stories about his experiences during the war. Leavitt then thanked everyone for attending the ceremony.
“Keep veterans in your heart,” he said.
Beele introduced Tony Manos, a veteran who is on the Flossmoor Veterans Memorial committee, which raised $100,000 to build a Wall of Honor at the southwest corner of Flossmoor Park. Beele is also a member of the committee.
“We’re continuing to fund raise so we can continue the project,” Manos said. He said the committee is selling commemorative bricks. The proceeds will provide for maintenance of the memorial after it is built.
Beele also invited a new member of the community to say a few words. Army Capt. Andre Da Silva was at the event with his wife, Nichelle Weemes, and son Jaydin. He said he has been in active duty for 14 years serving at places around the world.
The family moved to Homewood three months ago, he said, after a stint in Japan.
“I serve in a time when it is popular to serve, and that wasn’t always the case,” he said. “It’s through all of you guys’ efforts and struggles that my path was made easier. So thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart.”
Vietnam veteran Dan Taylor encouraged everyone present to promote patriotism.
“I think it’s really important that you all encourage our children and our grandchildren to be patriotic.” he said. “It seems to me that patriotism has kind of fallen by the wayside. It’s unfortunate. I think we need to encourage that with all kids so they can grow up to be real Americans and be proud of our country.”