Published Date Written by Dan Miller
It would be hard to come up with a more fitting tribute than that paid to area veterans by students and staff of the Middletown Area Middle School on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Local veterans were met in the school parking lot by a student who escorted them into the cafeteria for a continental breakfast served by students in the National Junior Honor Society.
Many of the students had been working since 4 a.m. to get ready for the event, said Ken Britcher Jr., a Grade 8 history teacher who, along with middle school history teacher Kevin Little, plays a lead role in helping the kids put on the Veterans Day ceremony. Britcher is a veteran – of the Navy. So is Little - Marine Corps. So are many of the other teachers who are involved in the event.
After the breakfast, the veterans were escorted into the auditorium for a stirring ceremony that featured patriotic musical performances by the school band, the reading of award-winning Veterans Day essays written by students, and several professionally-done video presentations.
One of the videos, which was done by Little, showed the faces, one by one, of every veteran from Middletown who has been killed in action in the conflicts from World War I on.
The guest speaker, 1991 Middletown Area High School graduate Eric Fegley, spoke to the students of his years in the Army serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Afghanistan.
Fegley was part of the Army’s first Brigade Combat Team that entered Afghanistan just three months after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. His son, today a student at the middle school, was born on the 4th of July while Delker was in Afghanistan.
Fegley told the students that the best way they can honor today’s veterans is to do three things: “Work hard and do something meaningful in your life,” “be a positive influence for change in your community” and “find a way to serve your neighbors, your community and your country.”
“I hear people saying all the time, ‘What’s wrong with kids today?’ ‘’ Fegley said. “There is nothing wrong with our kids today. We ask more of our kids today than we ever did when I was a kid. The young men and women I see in this auditorium are among the most brightest and most patriotic that I have ever encountered.”
Sixth-grader Quinn Dworchak was one of three students who each received $50 for their prize-winning essay. Dworchak quoted a definition of veterans as “someone who at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of someone’s life.”
She wrote of her great-uncle Paul, who served in the Army in Germany; her grandfather George, who was in the Air Force for nine years, and her second cousin Jimmy who was in the Air Force.
Seventh-grade essay winner Angelina Torres asked her fellow students to imagine what it is like to be a veteran.
“Imagine yourself put into dangerous situations regularly. Imagine leaving your loved ones and home for many days, weeks, even months at a time. Imagine doing all of this for the good of your country. Imagine yourself as a U.S. military veteran,” Torres wrote.
Eighth grade essayist Brian Carrera wrote of his grandfather, who enlisted during Vietnam and served four years. He was an Air Force mechanic who worked on B-12s.
“Some people may ask why should they show appreciation to our veterans. You should show appreciation because they put their lives on the line to fight for our country. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to not only protect this country, but to protect us!” Carrera wrote. “To ignore that, to not acknowledge that and show appreciation for their bravery and their service, to me feels like an injustice.”
“For those people who still don’t care, you have to remember that ‘Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf’ - George Orwell.”
The students and teachers are carrying on a tradition that has now been around for 20 years. Retired Middletown Area Middle School teacher Paul Pollock got the ball rolling in 1994.
“I sort of put it put it together every year for the first 10 years,” Pollock said. In the beginning the ceremony was held on the football field.
“Weather was always an issue in November, so we moved it inside,’’ Pollock said. “That was better suited for the veterans, especially the older ones.”
The event keeps growing. Last year, 98 veterans attended the continental breakfast and program; on this Veterans Day it was 138.
The veterans are invited by students who are their family members or friends.
“She’s proud of me,” Air Force veteran the Rev. Dr. Otis Martin said of his granddaughter, Dalajsha Shickley, a seventh-grader. Martin worked in electronics in the service and afterward went to the Anderson Theological Seminary in Georgia. He now lives in Harrisburg.
“I love it,” Martin said of the middle school event. “I think it’s nice to have something for people that gave so much. It’s encouraging and makes you feel like you are important. Everybody needs that.”