The Brandywine Heights High School Fife and Drum Corps. opened Brandywine’s 17th annual Veterans Day Program and Luncheon Nov. 10 with an Assembly Call and Salute to the Colors and the playing of Taps.
Held at the middle school for veterans who live in the community or are relatives of students, the program honors our country, thanks veterans for their service, and promotes citizenship.
Sen. Judy Schwank, who was among the program speakers, said she wouldn’t miss this program every year.
“I get goose bumps right from the beginning of the program when we hear the Fife and Drum Corp.,” said Schwank. “When the band is playing, the chorus is singing, we hear students’ Patriotic essays, and view their posters.”
Leading up to the day of the program, 4th through 8th grade students participated in the American Legion Americanism essay contest, this year writing about how they show their Americanism. They also competed in a school-wide poster contest on the same theme. Contest winners were recognized with a ribbon during the assembly. Essay writers also have a chance to win a monetary prize from the American Legion.
A highlight of the program is the presentation of the Patriot Award, which recognizes a veteran or community member/group for exceptional service to the country and/or community.
Schwank presented this year’s award to Vietnam veteran John Henschel, of District Township, who served in the Air Force as a dog handler and trainer in the security police and was the first in the military to train a dog to detect drugs. He received the Air Force Commendation Medal for his professionalism and skill.
Known by Brandywine students as Johnny Appleseed, he received a standing ovation and many greetings from veterans, staff and students on his way to the stage to receive the award.
“He has contributed to the community in many ways,” said Schwank, including as a coach, as Johnny Appleseed at Brandywine Elementary School, and as Santa.
“To stand here in front of you now truly is just a little bit overwhelming,” Henschel said to the crowd. “It’s so emotional to come in here every Veterans Day and walk through the hallways and have you kids and teachers come up to us and say thank you. We really totally appreciate that.”
Henschel said the veterans want to thank the students and staff for putting on the program. “It means so much to us.”
Henschel asked the veterans to say, “Thank you!” which they shouted in booming voices all together.
“Anybody who was in Vietnam knows kind of what we went through when we came home. It was a different kind of war and for years and years we kept it hidden. It was an emotional time. And it wasn’t until this school started this program that we could really open up and share and be appreciated and it’s a healing process that still goes on.”
The program included performances by 7th and 8th grade band and chorus, by the MHMS Select Chorus and BHIS teacher Audrey Tucker who will be retiring at the end of the school year. Students read patriotic poems and essay contest winners read their winning essays.
Closing the program, Brandywine Heights School Board member John Scheetz, a veteran, said “Today is the day we recognize all who took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution, the road map that is considered the American way of life. It is a day to thank ... a U.S. soldier, sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman or air man,” said Scheetz. “We came from all walks of life and when we were done we returned to all walks of life.”
Scheetz extended his thanks to his fellow veterans in the audience.
“I know that many of you it feels like you were just doing your job. At the time it did not seem remarkable or outstanding; you just did what you needed to do to get the job done. However, we look back through the lens of time and start to realize no matter when or where we served there are a handful of memories and experiences that our civilian friends and colleagues will never understand. It is only our military brothers and sisters who can ever understand these situations. It is important to have times like these where we come together and remember those moments of our lives.”
Thanking everyone involved in making the program possible, Scheetz said many of the veterans in attendance feel like rock stars for a day at Brandywine Heights.
“You do not know how much this means to so many veterans,” said Scheetz.
He told students that they continue to amaze them with their intelligence and empathy.
“We come and tell you stories of far away lands, exotic people and hair-raising adventures,” he said, referring to when veterans spoke to classes or were part of a Q & A session earlier that day. “You open your classrooms and you give us your time and attention. Your questions run the gamut from poignant to hilarious.”
He requested students to never loose their desire to serve, not only in the military but also in other ways, such as volunteering in school, church and community organizations.
“Continue to make a difference in people’s lives. Even if it’s just one person’s life, the reward you receive is immeasurable,” said Scheetz.
After the program while veterans were escorted to the cafeteria for lunch, Brandywine Heights Middle School Principal Robert Farina said the program gives students an opportunity to thank veterans in the community. He hopes students learn that freedom is not free and that men and women defend our rights and it is our duty to give back to them and make sure they feel appreciated.
“We have a large number of veterans in our community and this gives us a chance to give back and say thank you for the service they provided to our country.”
Farina hopes the program gives veterans a sense of peace, a sense of understanding that they are appreciated.
“It is our hope that when they leave today that they know our students value them and they are in awe of what they have done for our country.”
Veterans were invited to view the patriotic displays throughout the building.