“They bravely answered the call to freedom,” he said, assisted allies and “turned back the aggressors,” so it’s an appropriate time to honor vets.
About 340 area veterans and their families attended the annual event at Robert L. Haas Gymnasium.
“We honor you and will never forget you,” said Will Lindenberger, one of many Willard students to participate.
The program included several patriotic, musical numbers. The Willard High School chamber choir sang “Stars and Stripes Forever” while the symphonic choir led the crowd in singing the national anthem and later, “Flanders Fields” by themselves. The chamber choir sang “Taps” just before senior Gabe Sanchez performed the same, haunting song — this time as an instrumental on his trumpet from the podium.
Led by music teachers Dave Carpenter and Kristen Hall, students in kindergarten through fifth grade sang “God Bless the USA.” As students paraded flags from the branches of the military around the gym, the band performed an armed forces medley, which also closed the program.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Daniel Barnett was the featured speaker. The 1982 WHS graduate retired three years ago, having started and ended his 27-year military career at Fort Benning, Ga.
Returning to Willard had Barnett recalling memories of wrestling practices.
“It’s good to be back here,” he said.
Barnett was in the first class of the Distinguished W Alumni who were honored in late September during homecoming festivities. The inaugural inductees included several other veterans: retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bruce Durr Sr., Willard City Manager Jim Ludban, an Army veteran, and retired Air Force Col. Richard Vogel, a former prisoner of war.
WHS history teacher Cathy Weaver, who introduced Barnett, said he has set “an excellent standard” as a role model for students.
Barnett said the world would be a “darker place” without veterans, whom he hopes inspire future generations to “step up to the plate and protect our freedoms.” And if the military life isn’t a good fit, he encouraged young people to find a calling that not only suits them, but will allow them to give back to the world.
“No matter what your calling is, do it for the betterment of your community,” he added.
Barnett was moved with the school’s “impressive display of gratitude” toward veterans.
“This doesn’t happen everywhere,” he said. “It’s really an impressive thing to see.”