The area men and women from all branches of the military gathered for breakfast Monday morning in the lobby of the Robert L. Haas Gymnasium. They then were honored during the third annual Veterans Day program by Willard City Schools.
“I think it’s very important,” said Willard resident Patsy Thompson, who was at the breakfast with her husband Robert, a Vietnam War-era vet.
“I think it’s a great example for the young people,” added Thompson, who graduated from WHS in 1969. “I’m very honored to be here with all the veterans.”
Robert “Butch” Thompson (class of 1961) served in the U.S. Army for three years. His wife said celebrating veterans is especially important now because Vietnam War-era vets weren’t treated very well when they returned home.
More than 180 veterans confirmed they would be attending the program, which was coordinated by the WHS Teen Leadership Corps class, FFA and student council.
“This is so important. They worked so hard; we couldn’t have done it without them,” said English teacher Courtney Carnahan, a student council co-adviser and member of the community honor committee.
The Veterans Day program is one of several events in which Willard students honor military personnel.
“Their passion is what drives these events,” Carnahan said. “It makes us so proud.”
Students are in their seventh year participating in Honor Flight. Veterans take a flight to the nation’s capital, where they tour memorials.
“They greet the veterans as they come home from D.C.,” FFA adviser Tiffany Nuhfer said. “They serve as escorts. They take the veterans through the honor tunnel (at the airport).”
Willard had its second military appreciation night during the football season. The third Honor Run 5K will happen in March.
“I think the kids have developed a passion for giving back to veterans. They have an understanding of the sacrifice of the veterans,” Nuhfer said.
Student Nick Bauer, during the program, said his fellow students have been inspired by feedback from veterans about various events. He also said knowing that two friends who hadn’t seen each other since boot camp were reunited last year makes such “special moments” even more meaningful.
Every grade level participated in the Veterans Day program.
Vets stood when the high school marching band played the song for their branch of the military. While middle school students in the military militia and band presented historical flags, the elementary school leadership team led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Kindergarten students through fifth-graders sang “God Bless the USA.”
Jim Rose, of Perrysburg, who graduated from Willard in 1974, was the main speaker. He served as a U.S. Marine Corps police officer during his years of service, 1974 through 1979. The retired cop at one point was the Milan police chief.
“This is a tremendous thing for the veterans and we really do appreciate it,” said Rose, who noted such assemblies “move you deep inside.”
Using the pre-program breakfast as an example, Rose said veterans feel comfortable with each other and will share stories about their time in the military, even if they just met. He wondered if vets would speak to students with as much candor. The majority of Rose’s speech was a scripted back-and-forth dialogue with senior Maria Perisic and centered on survivor’s guilt and veterans being thanked for serving their country.
Patrick R. Mahl, of Havana, attended the breakfast. He attended grade school in Bismark and went to Willard High School until he served in the Army for two years.
“I was in Korea. I was sergeant first class … I learned a lot,” he said. “I had a 155 (mm) Howitzer and 12 men.”
Mahl was asked what young people should learn about the importance of Veterans Day.
“I think most of them should enjoy being here, that it was taken care of by someone else and a lot of them don’t appreciate it,” he said. “They all served their country and did what they had to do to protect it the way it is.”