SIDNEY — Almost everything done in everyday life is a freedom granted because of veterans. That is what students at Whittier Elementary School learned on Tuesday at their Veterans Day Program.
Students escorted veterans, young and old, into the gymnasium in a “Parade of Veterans.” Among them were Navy Veteran Tim Gotshall, of Sidney. He was there with his grandchildren Michael and CJ Roderick, second and first grade. Gotshall served for 12 and a half years in the navy and this was his third time coming to the Veteran’s Day event at the school.
Kerry Summerville, an Army veteran, was there with her niece Devyn Oliver, a fifth-grade student. Summerville served in the Army Reserves for eight years. She lives in Tennessee, but when Oliver asked her to come to her school and wear her army uniform, Summerville couldn’t say no.
The two of them made up more than 30 other veterans who took time out of their day to be honored by the students of Whittier.
The combined second grade classes sang songs, like “I Love My Country” and “Heroes”. Veteran Chris North told the audience about the origins of Veterans Day, how it came to be what it is today, and how it differs from Memorial Day.
Michael J. Bennett, 65, of Anna, a retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserves, who was on active duty during the Desert Storm era, and deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom answered some of the students pre-submitted questions about what it’s like to be in the armed services.
“Someone asked me how long I have been in the military. How long you have been in the military is something you never forget. I have served in the military for 38 years, 11 months and 24 days. I also served in 23 countries around the world,” Bennett said.
The students asked about the food. Bennett said the Air Force and Navy vets really live nice, while the Army vets have to mix a packet of something with water and hope it mixes together all the way.
They asked him, “what are helmets made out of? and “why do you wear camouflage?” He told them they used to make helmets out of steal, which you could shave your face with or cook food in. Now they make helmets out of Kevlar. Bennett said they wear camouflage to hide from the bad guys.
Then he got to why they were all there. He told a story about how when he was about their age, he noticed his father had been a World War II Veteran. His dad taught him about freedoms that him and all the other members of the military earned for the citizens of The United States.
To give the students an idea of what sorts of freedoms he was talking about, he had all the veterans hold up signs with freedoms on them.
Included on the signs were things like watch television, build cities, got to church, play baseball, and take a “selfie”.
“You don’t normally think of wearing purple polka dots as freedom … but there are countries where people don’t have those freedoms,” he said. “Had it not been for the scarifies of these people (vets in the audience) and the people who came before them … you might not be in a building like this today,” he said.
“What I’d like you to remember as you leave here today, is every-time you do one of these things on these cards, you are honoring these veterans,” he said.
Bennett was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2014. He chairs the Shelby County Vets to DC, which provides free trips by ground transport for veterans to visit their memorials in the capital. He expanded eligibility for the program from World War II veterans to Korea, Vietnam, and Vietnam-era veterans as well as those from surrounding counties.
Under his leadership, the group established a sponsorship program, raised more than $270,000, and dedicated more than 19,000 volunteer hours, enabling more than 330 veterans to make the trip.
He serves as Post Commander of VFW Post 4239 in Sidney, where he initiated a series of day trips for members and established the post’s first-ever web site. Other civic work includes serving as training officer for the Shelby County Amateur Radio Emergency Services, which augments the county EMA as emergency communicators.
Reach this writer at 937-538-4825; follow on Twitter @SDNAlexandraN