Veterans Day is always marked on the calendar far in advance at Wellington High School.
Teacher John Perry organizes the school’s annual ceremony through his Civil War history club but says his students are really in the driver’s seat.
“We’ve been doing this for over 20 years now, or since I’ve been here,” he said. “We start planning about three to four weeks ahead of time at our club meetings. Because we’ve done it for so long, it goes like clockwork. The band and choir know it’s coming. Because of that anticipation and the great work of these kids, it’s become a smooth process for us.”
Those efforts paid off in the form of a packed gymnasium Friday, full of song and poignant moments of appreciation for area veterans.
“Every year they do this and it’s very cool,” said WHS principal Tina Drake. “McCormick has a ceremony in the morning and we do ours in the afternoon. It’s important to reinforce our gratitude and it’s also a matter of respect. Kids don’t quite put together how hard these men and women have worked to preserve our freedoms and privileges until they see it in person.”
Benjamin Friend graduated from WHS in 2015 and is now serving in the National Guard.
“My grandfather and father both also served,” he said. “I did it for the opportunity to serve my country and the scholarships provided. If I ever get called to duty abroad, I’ll be ready, but I’ll be continuing my education in the meantime.”
He said people should show their thanks to veterans regardless of what their views are on the wars they fought in.
“I think on a day like today, everyone should go out and shake a veteran’s hand,” he said. “Even if you don’t agree with wars, shake their hand. They fought for you. You owe them that.”
Friend was one of many veterans called by name and asked to stand for a round of applause.
Another was Ralph Keys, an airman first class in the Air Force from 1950 to 1954.
“I was a training commander during the Korean War,” he said. “I was turning a lot of wrenches out there. I trained navigators for many B-47 and B-25 planes.”
After the ceremony, Perry said he couldn’t have been happier with what his students produced and that the ongoing issues of veteran poverty and homelessness need to be addressed.
“I think it’s important for us, especially in a school environment with young people, to have that awareness,” he said. “Events like today develop that awareness. I’m always impressed by our student body’s thoughts on this. Many of them have relatives or friends who are serving or have served. What we try to do here as teachers is lay the groundwork for that awareness that will continue to develop into adulthood.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise Tim Frombaugh and Benjamin Friend, both of the U.S. Army, share a moment after Wellington High School’s Veterans Day ceremony.