Sen. Judy Schwank presented the 2016 BHASD Patriot Award to Marine veteran Joseph Stoess during the 17th annual Brandywine Heights Veterans Day Assembly on Nov. 11.
“We are honoring individuals in this community who have made a difference by serving the country but also serving the community,” said Schwank. “I think it is so special that this community does take that opportunity.”
This year’s Patriot Award recipient grew up in Kentucky and joined the Marines in 2000. Stoess served for 14 years in various capacities until his retirement due to combat injuries. He received the Navy Marine Corp. Achievement Medal and the Navy Marine Corp. Accommodation Medal. He and his wife and three children moved to the Topton community about three years ago. Stoess is on the football coaching staff for the Kutztown High School team.
“Although he hasn’t lived here very long, he is making his mark on our community through sports,” said Schwank.
“It is a true honor to be up here,” said Stoess. “I haven’t lived here very long and there are probably many veterans out there who deserve the honor more than I do.”
Remembering what he was told about his generation not living up to expectations, Stoess said that as a football coach working with youth he has learned that “there’s always another group of great Americans to follow... to fill the shoes of us who have traveled all over the world and fought for the freedoms that we so much deserve here in this country.”
Thanking Brandywine for the award Stoess wished everyone a happy Veterans Day.
Held at Brandywine Heights Intermediate & Middle School, the program opened with the Brandywine Heights High School Fife and Drum Corps performing the assembly call and salute to the colors. Eighth grader Ashlyn Clark explained the history of Taps followed by a moving performance of Taps by trumpet Jackson Carter and several singers.
“Growing up I was always proud to know that I had one grandfather who flew in B17s and another grandfather who rode a Sherman M410 in General Patton’s Third Army but those were stories and memories that were shared with me and past down from a time period long before my birth,” said Intermediate & Middle School Principal Robert Farina in his welcoming remarks.
After 9/11, a core group of Farina’s friends, including Brandywine alumni, were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Their service and sacrifice brought a tangible reality to the stories of my grandfathers. The knowledge that those that I cared for were in harms way gave me new perspective of the service to our great nation. Finally, it reaffirmed what I had already held dear to my core. That I owed these friends and their comrades a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Farina.
Farina thanked the veterans for their service, courage and for the example they set.
“It is on this day that we outwardly, loudly and proudly voice that gratitude,” said Farina. “I challenge each of you today as you listen to various poems, songs and speeches that our program includes, to not allow that gratitude be something that is commemorated only on Nov. 11, but that it is something you live everyday.”
The program included, but not limited to, the Brandywine Heights 7 and 8th grade band perform “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Also, Brandywine Heights 6, 7 and 8th grade chorus sing “Let Freedom Ring.” Essay and poster contest winners were recognized. First place winners read their winning pieces.
Brandywine Heights 6th grader Dante Blankenbiller, 11, was happy to honor his great grandfather Stanley Blankenbiller of West Lawn for his service in the Air Force and Army. This was the third year they celebrated Veterans Day together at the assembly.
Marine veteran Charles Frisch attended the program with his grandson Connor Frisch, a Brandywine fifth grader.
“It was beautiful. Couldn’t be any better than that. It was terrific,” said Frisch about the program. “It made me feel like a good American.”
Navy veteran Penny Carlson with Brandywine fourth grader Autumn Derstine. She spent 18 of her 20 years with the Marine Corp. as a medic.
“I loved it. I had a great time talking with the kids and letting them know that there are women in the military, too, even us old women,” said Carlson.
Brandywine Heights Superintendent Andrew Potteiger said the works of the students and their performances was a great recognition of veterans but also a wonderful way for students to connect and express gratitude on Veterans Day. Prior to the assembly, veterans visited classrooms and shared their stories.
“They are impressing upon our students the value of freedom and respect for our country. Your experiences shared with our students perpetuates the importance of this important day in our nation, when we honor and recognize the men and women who have served in the United States military,” said Potteiger. “This is what we call a teachable moment. A real life lesson. Your stories are not in textbooks. They are not captured on television programs or in videos. They are connections for students to understand the personal sacrifice, the separation from loved ones, the devastation of loss and the reminder that freedom has a cost and it is not free.”
Potteiger said that while the program honors veterans, it is a reciprocal, mutually beneficial event as veterans impress upon students their experiences and the true meaning of Veterans Day.