With 23 million U.S. veterans living today, and about 2.8 million active and reserved personnel in the Armed Forces, Veterans Day is an important holiday, social studies teacher Dan Eyestone said Wednesday.
“Veterans Day is an opportunity to pause and reflect on how blessed we are in the United States of America,” Eyestone said at a patriotic assembly at Great Bend High School. As a result of the sacrifices of men and women in uniform, he said, “America’s freedoms and liberties remain ours to control.”
The entire student body – about 900 teenagers – attended the assembly in the GBHS gymnasium. Local veterans were invited, and Great Bend’s American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Legion Riders members were in attendance and carried American flags. There was music by the GBHS Marching Band, Orchestra and Madrigal singers. Looking over the crowd, Assistant Principal Daryl Moore commented on how attentive and respectful the students were.
“You could hear a pin drop,” he said of the quiet moments in the assembly. “No one was texting or on a cell phone.”
It wasn’t surprising; when Eyestone asked students and faculty who have someone serving in the military to stand, it was a significant percentage of the audience.
To recognize veterans in attendance, the musicians played a medley of theme songs for the branches of the military. Veterans were asked to stand when they heard their theme song.
The guest speaker was Thomas Drewel Jr., a 1992 GBHS graduate and Marine Corps veteran who has moved back to his hometown. Drewel is a combat veteran who was part of Operation Restore Hope, where 25,000 U.S. troops were deployed to Somalia to secure the trade routes so that food could get to the people. During his four years of service, he said, a high point was meeting a Marine Corps living legend, Carlos “Gunny” Hathcock, the “American Sniper” of the Vietnam War.
Traveling to Africa and seeing a Third World nation helped him realize how much we have and take for granted here in the United States, Drewel said.
Coming from a military family inspired him to become a Marine. “I was very proud of my Dad and I want to be just like my Dad,” he said.
“If you see a veteran, thank them for their service. It means a lot to us,” Drewel said. His final comment was, “Heroes don’t wear capes; they wear dog tags.”
Mr. Eyestone then read the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which was followed by the playing of “Taps” and a moment of silence.
Earlier that morning, students in the “Nutrition & Wellness 2” class served breakfast to approximately 25 veterans.