Jake Radke looked out over the gymnasium filled with Great Bend High School students mingled with a handful of veterans Thursday morning and got a lump in his throat.
"I lost my best friend on this day in South Vietnam," Radke, himself a veteran, said, his voice shaking. "I salute him today."
He spoke at the first-ever GBHS Veterans Day assembly, organized by band teacher Mark DeWald and government teacher Dan Eyestone. The event drew vets, the American Legion Legion Riders, local World War II re-enactors and others wishing to honor those who have served in the military.
A color guard made up of veterans solemnly posted the American Flag as everyone, young and old, stood. The GBHS Madrigal Singers sang the National Anthem and Austin Morgan, student body president, recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
The center of the gym floor was fill with flags as the GBHS Panther Pride Band played the service songs of each branch of the armed services. Those who served in each of the forces rose.
"Of course you don’t know what we went through," Radke told the students. He harked back to his youth as war raged in South East Asia. "I was in the same place you are."
It’s easy to believe, he said, that individuals don’t matter. "You might think one person can’t make a difference. But one person can make a difference."
Although he served in Vietnam, he praised those who fought in WW II, noting America loses about a 1,000 vets of that war each day. "We have to keep them in mind."
But, he said, we must also remember those currently serving on active duty around the globe in such war-torn regions as Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I want to change things," Radke said. He sees his duty as educating youth and making sure all veterans are taken care of "in the very best way possible."
In his remarks, Eyestone traced the history of Veterans Day, from the signing of the armistice that ended hostilities during World War I n the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in November 1918 to the establishment of Armistice Day to its being changed to Veterans Day.
He concluded the assembly by quoting the famed "Great War" poem by the Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields." In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
"Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields."
Organizers hope to make this an annual event.