Veterans, community, faculty and students packed the auditorium for Brandywine Heights Area School District’s13th annual Veterans Day Program and Luncheon Nov. 9.
The middle school halls were decorated with posters and patriotic displays and the veterans were invited to speak to the classes prior to the assembly. The BHHS Fife and Drum Corps began the program with Assembly Call and Salute to the Colors. Taps was played in honor of veterans who passed. Music and readings were performed and awards were presented.
“Today we’re here to present to you, our individual and our collective talents as gifts to all you veterans. Gifts of deep appreciation, sincere thanks, and true understanding of the many liberties that we’re offered because of your sacrifices and dedicated service to our country,” said Dr. Kathy Johnson, middle school principal.
“Our wish is that through our efforts and our preparations for this ceremony, this celebration, is that you actually know and feel and understand how significant and enduring your sacrifices affect all of us not just today, but every day,” said Johnson.
Each year Brandywine recognizes an individual or group for their outstanding service to the community and this year Senator Judy Schwank presented Roy F. Gehris with the Patriot Award.
According to Schwank, Gehris joined the Marines right after graduation in 1960. Having served in a number of locations including Japan, Gehris was sent to Vietnam where he served as an aircraft mechanic with the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron. He worked on Phantom Jets.
After his service, Gehris continued to serve the community as a Boy Scout leader for Troop 132, Bowers, and then as part of the commissioners staff. He is currently in charge of training for the district. He is the adjutant for the Topton American Legion as well as a member of the Honor Guard and its treasurer. He was the past president of the Berks County Genealogical Society and volunteers at the Genealogical Library of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center in Kutztown. He also serves in the Bowers Lions Club and is the Union Cemetery Treasurer for his church.
“Oh, by the way, in his spare time he is the webmaster of his squadron’s website. Are you getting tired?” asked Schwank as she continued to list his achievements.
In family tradition, his son, Major Scott Gehris, Marines, was chosen for Lieutenant-Colonel. Scott has served for 17 years and is presently stationed in Afghanistan.
“I had a lot of people that were influential and I thank all of them along with the people at the legion right now,” said Roy Gehris. “Boy Scouts is another thing I’ve been involved in. I was a Boy Scout as a youth. I was a Boy Scout leader and took a troop to Philmont. You spend 10 days out on the trail and it’s really impressive for a lot of youth to go through that; it was impressive for me to go through that. I still believe Boy Scouts is a great program.”
During the assembly, winners for the American Legion Americanism Essay Contest were announced. Fourth through eighth grade students had to answer the theme for this year, What Freedom Do I Enjoy Most? Students could also enter the poster contest with the same theme.
“We’re doing this to honor our veterans and also to promote patriotism within our student body,” said Tess Woloszanski, BHASD Veterans Day Coordinator.
The seventh and eighth grade bands performed Hymn to the Fallen by John Williams as a video played honoring all who have served throughout our nation’s history. Painted scenes from the American Revolution through black and white photos of the Civil War and up to current times showed men and women serving their country and memorials dedicated to those who passed.
Footage of a landing ship off the shores of Normandy on D-Day seemed to resonate with a veteran in particular. Although he was thin and elderly, he sat straight and strong in his Navy uniform. After the program, he began to talk about his most memorable experience; his eyes filled with tears.
“We were asleep, just about in on the beach, and the ship goes up in the air and we thought we were going under. We couldn’t find our way topside,” said 89 year old George Breunig, a WWII veteran.
Breunig served in the U.S. Navy as a petty officer second class gunner’s mate. He said this is equivalent to a sergeant in the army. The landing ship he served on was an LST981; it held 100 sailors. As it approached the Normandy Shore, it hit an underwater mine. Breunig said they lay out in the channel for a week before they were towed into drydock and that there were three LSTs.
“I don’t know if you ever heard of a buzz bomb; it’s 2,000 pounds of TNT. 12:30 at night, the buzz bomb come over and hit the center LST; killed the whole crew,” Breunig stopped and looked away. He had not only served in the Normandy invasion, but in Okinawa as well.
According to militaryhistory.about.com, a buzz bomb was an inexpensive flying bomb with a range of about 150 miles. Developed by the Luftwaffe in 1942, it was guided by gyroscopes, a magnetic compass and a barometric altimeter. A vane anemometer was used to locate its target and set the bomb off.
The Black Watch performed “Salute the U.S. Forces” in recognition of veterans and BHHS graduates presently serving or recently served. Chris Unis, eighth grade, presented the poem, “Freedom in America,” by Joanna Fuchs and another poem by Fuchs, “The Nobel and the Brave: A Veteran’s Day Tribute,” was presented by Paige Fenstermacher, eighth grade. The sixth, seventh, and eighth grade chorus, directed by Nancy Chmielewski, performed, “American Anthem,” Scheer, arranged by Purifoy. Faculty member, Audrey Tucker, sang the patriotic song, Before You Go, by Sam Bierstock. Nicole Konyak, computer instructor, arranged a power point presentation dedicated to Carl Fritch, a veteran of WWII and Korea.
Fritch, who had earned the Bronze Star during the Battle of the Bulge, recently lost the battle to cancer. He was well known for his attendance of the middle school program every year and as a tireless leader of the Topton Legion Honor Guard.
“As a fellow veteran serving eight years in Infantry Unit National Guard and being deployed, I realize how those memories and the experiences in the military can change you. Those experiences are also what create an immediate bond when you meet a stranger and find out they’re a veteran. I’ve always said serving in the military is an honor that can never be taken away from you,” said Andrew Pottiger, assistant superintendent in his closing remarks.