Veterans Moved By Student Program
By Rick Hiduk
The camaraderie and the food were terrific at a luncheon for Wyalusing area veterans hosted by sixth-graders at Wyalusing Valley Elementary School on Nov. 11. But it was the reading of a collection of essays written by the students about why they were proud to be Americans that provided the most poignant moments during the annual event.
Sixth-grade teacher Lee Hulsizer has coordinated the luncheon for a number of years, having initiated the commemoration at the former Laceyville Elementary School (LES) and involving students at every grade level. Due to the consolidation, Hulsizer was relegated this year to involving only the sixth graders, who will travel later this week to Washington, DC. He hopes to involve more of the student body in the future. Most but not all of the veterans invited to the event have familial ties to students or faculty members at the school.
Veterans gathering in the school’s lobby prior to being escorted by sixth-graders to the cafeteria remarked that the annual luncheon and observance of Veterans’ Day was important to both the pupils and their honored guests. Ben Chamberlin had also participated in one of the previous LES events and suggested that it was a great opportunity for the children to learn about patriotism and service to community, which, he noted, “doesn’t stop with military service.” Chamberlin served in the Marines from 1982 to ’83 in Beirut, Lebanon before serving in Iraq from 2004 to ’05 as a member of the Army National Guard.
Robert Oliver, Jr., who participated in Desert Storm in Iraq from 1987 to ’91, added that the veterans in attendance appreciated the show of respect from the students, who served meals to their guests and listened with great interest to the military histories that Hulsizer read about each of them.
Lou Gansell had the distinction of being the only active duty military personnel in attendance. His career stretches over four decades and has included stints in Bosnia and Iraq, as well as recent involvement with the Army National Guard in local recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Lee.
“Wow! He did a lot, and he’s still in it,” sixth-grader Jennifer Lent remarked after learning of Gansell’s endeavors.
Hulsizer read a poem written by retired school secretary of education Dianne Bennett before moving on to six essays that had been selected from among those written by all of the sixth graders on the topic “Why I’m Proud to Be an American.” Hulsizer gave the students whose essays were chosen for presentation the option of reading them aloud, which most of them did. Hulsizer read the other two, which did not take away from the sentiments expressed by the youths.
Autumn Dietz began her essay poetically before declaring, “Our early ancestors must have gone through huge trouble just to get a taste of freedom. Brave soldiers today continue to fight for our nation’s safety, rights, and security.”
“Our military may be strong with weapons,” LeAn Kipp wrote, “but they also have a strong heart.”
“I’m proud to be an American because America makes me feel safe,” Domanick Otis concurred. “I wish I could say the same for other countries.”
“America offers so much more in a year than people in other countries experience in a lifetime,” noted Paige Robinson in her essay.
The last student to read an essay was Kristie Epler, the daughter of Scott and Becky Epler, both of whom were in attendance. They both served in the Army during Desert Storm, and Scott Epler also served in Bosnia and was awarded a bronze star. Kristie expressed pride for all military personnel who had served in each of the five branches, including her mother and father, who were not the only family members close to her to have made that commitment to their country.
“My mother lost her brother—my uncle—in the army,” she read to those in attendance. “I found out that he died in May of 2000, just before I was born. He was my Uncle Buddy. They buried him in Gettysburg National Cemetery, where Ulysses S. Grant is buried.”
Both of Kristie’s parents were already wiping tears from their eyes, but there was hardly a dry eye left at the table of honored guests when Kristie walked across the room and gave her parents a hug.
“That’s what it’s really all about,” Hulsizer said afterwards of the touching moment and the opportunity to draw a personal connection between the veterans and the children. “I am really hoping that the kids took something away from the experience. I guess the difference will be seen later this week when the kids recognize veterans” who will travel with the students to Washington “and thank them for their service without me prompting them.”