SIDNEY — The Lehman Catholic High School Teen Leadership Corps held a flag dedication and veteran celebration on Friday, Nov. 16, in the school’s gymnasium.
Initially set for Thursday, Nov. 15, the event was rescheduled due to inclement weather, which prompted the closing of schools.
“Today’s assembly is the result of a student vision shared three years ago,” said Melissa Safreed, teacher and adviser of the Teen Leadership Corps at Lehman. “The 2016-2017 Teen Leadership Class, of only seven students, chose to spend their year dedicated to American patriotism, especially honoring our nation’s veterans.”
According to Safreed, these seven TLC members had the goal to obtain a new remote-controlled, motorized American flag to place in the school’s gym.
After fundraising for a year, Safreed said, the group fell just short of the amount needed for purchase and installation of the flag.
“Last year’s class decided to finish the project of fundraising,” she said. “The flag was finally able to be purchased, shipped, and — with a huge contribution of John Frantz and Sidney Electric — it was installed this past summer.”
Safreed also recognized the Piqua VFW Post 4874 and the Piqua American Legion Post 184 for their contributions in making the flag dedication and veteran celebration possible.
A color guard, made up of Sidney American Legion and Sidney VFW members performed a Presentation of Colors, and a Presentation of Flags was performed by local Boy Scouts, including fourth grader Alex Giguere, sophomore Ryan Gibson, junior Ethan Derryberry, sophomore Luke Burkhardt and senior Aaron Topp.
TLC member Hannah Giguere spoke briefly to introduce the event’s keynote speaker, James Slife.
Slife served 23 years in the Marine Corps, Giguere said, 22 of which he spent in special operations.
“James has been a great family friend, and a positive mentor for myself and my brother, who couldn’t be here today because he is training to become a Marine, following in James’ footsteps,” Giguere said.
Giguere went on to say Slife graduated from the U.S. Army Ranger School and completed several challenging military courses including skydiving, scuba diving and Marine Scout Sniper school. Slife has been deployed in multiple combat operations.
“James is a master sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, has one Bronze Star, one Joint Meritorious Service Award, one Meritorious Service Award, one Joint Commendation, one Joint Achievement, four Navy Achievements and a Combat Action Ribbon,” Giguere said. “Today, James will be talking about what the flag means to him.”
Slife began by sharing an emotional experience he had during his time in the Marine Corps.
“On 9 December 1999, something happened to me that shattered my entire world in a matter of seconds,” he said. “I lost six of my teammates — six of my brothers — in a helicopter crash. So when I think about what the flag represents to me, when I look around and see the veterans today, I’m honored and privileged to be here.”
The crash Slife was referring to happened during a training mission 14 miles off the coast of Point Loma, California.
The helicopter had departed from the USS Bonhomme Richard with a crew of 18 for a training exercise at the USNS Pecos.
The helicopter approached the Pecos low and fast, and the left rear wheel of the helicopter had struck and became entangled in the safety netting at the rear of the Pecos.
As the pilots attempted to lift off, the helicopter’s landing gear remained entangled, causing it to roll to the left and crash into the water.
“Not only did I lose six brothers, but America lost six warriors; wives lost six husbands; children lost fathers,” Slife said.
Slife took a moment to read a rendition of the poem, “My Name Is Old Glory,” by Howard Schnauber.
Slife ended his speech by leading the audience in recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
He left attendees with a word of advice: “Help out people to your left and right, out in this community, and let us be better citizens to America.”
The Lehman Choir then performed the song, “Proud to Be an American,” followed by taps by bugle player Carl Zimmerman, of the Sidney American Legion Post 217.
Breakfast was provided after the ceremony for all veterans and local officials in attendance.
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