Teens honor veterans' deeds

In Westminster, students celebrate service members' sacrifice during fourth annual breakfast, ceremony

November 13, 2005|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

With the strains of the anthems of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force filling the room, hundreds of students and faculty members at Winters Mill High rose to their feet and offered a steady stream of grateful applause to the nearly 300 war veterans who had gathered for a day of remembrance.

Among them stood men and women who had served in conflicts stretching back to World War II.

There was 92-year-old Henry Singer, who served in the Navy from 1934 to 1945.

Standing beside him was his friend, fellow Navy man Charles Swiderman, 85, who clutched a framed painting of the USS Santee, the carrier on which he served from 1942 to 1945.

Singer had come to the event with his neighbor - schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, who joined the Navy in 1945, two days after his 18th birthday.

As he soaked up the atmosphere, Singer said he couldn't help but get emotional about the tribute and the memories that such days bring back.

"I'm so grateful, but I'm also crying for my nation," he said as he thought about today's soldiers at war in Iraq. "It chokes me up."

Accompanied by their families, the servicemen and women were being honored with a Veterans Day breakfast and an assembly Friday at the high school in Westminster. This was the fourth year that Winters Mill students have coordinated the tribute.

"In our history classes, we are expected to learn a seemingly endless list of dates," Monica Zaleski, an 11th-grader, said during a segment of the program that paid tribute to fallen soldiers. "But it's not so much the dates [that matter] as it is the people who served. Don't forget those who served."

To honor the memories of the more than 2,000 servicemen and women who have died fighting the war in Iraq as well as in the conflict in Afghanistan, 20 Junior ROTC cadets - each holding an empty vase adorned with red, white and blue ribbons - made a solemn march to the front of the gymnasium. Each vase was filled with a red rose, and taps was played.

Hal Camlin, who served in the Marines for nearly 40 years before retiring in 1989, and his wife, Mary, who served in the Navy from 1953 to 1954, came from their home in Littlestown, Pa., to attend the program because their grandchildren are students at Winters Mill.

As they talked to students in the hallway after the program, Hal Camlin reflected on how much attitudes toward the military had changed - for the better - since the charged days of the Vietnam War.

"It's mind-boggling to me," he said.

But students, especially those among the more than 100 who have chosen to join the school's ROTC program, said it was their honor to celebrate the veterans' service.

"It's wonderful to have the veterans come out so we can properly thank them," said Tatiana Kish, an 11th-grader, who is the ROTC program's battalion commander and whose father is a Navy chaplain. "This is just a wonderful source of inspiration for us."

Hillard R. Fritz, 75, who served in the Air Force from 1948 to 1968, said the students' tribute was touching.

"It brings tears to my eyes," said Fritz, who attended the ceremony with his grandson, Erick R. Fritz, a senior at Winters Mill. "This is very emotional."

Erick said the program made him even more grateful that his grandfather survived his years of service.

"With all the people who are losing their lives in Iraq, it makes me glad he's not over there now," Erick Fritz said.

In a closing tribute, the students projected a series of messages onto a screen.

The final note stated simply:

"For you - we are thankful."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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