MATER DEI STUDENTS HONOR LOCAL VETERANS
Service veterans accept medals, thanks during school ceremony
LANSDALE >> Over a hundred local veterans were thanked for their service Friday morning, by a generation growing up in a world their elders helped secure.
Students in each grade at Mater Dei Catholic School in Lansdale took turns Friday morning singing patriotic songs, reading quotes from former U.S. presidents, handing medals to veterans, and thanking them for defending their country.
“Confidence ... thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.” - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“It’s very emotional, because when we came back from Vietnam, we weren’t welcomed back. We weren’t allowed to wear our uniforms when we came back, we were cussed out, called baby killers, called every name you could think of,” said Alan Moore.
Moore served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1960s, including a deployment to Vietnam in 1966-67 and a stint training at Parris Island in South Carolina in 1963, where he met his wife Kay.
“Both of our boys were born there, on Parris Island, and I was one of the fortunate ones that came back (from Vietnam), he said.
“Until our grandkids got us involved here, we never ever told anybody we were over there. And that’s no lie — we just never talked about it,” Moore said.
“As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” - President John F. Kennedy.
As they posed for photos with their granddaughters and Mater Dei students Shannon and Tara, the Moores caught up with fellow veterans they haven’t seen since last year’s Veterans Day ceremony at the school, like U.S. Army Lt. Col. Gil Buentello.
“It’s very emotional. It’s an emotional experience — you can tell that they’re happy to have us here, and that’s really exciting,” said Buentello.
Buentello just returned on Oct. 1 from a 14-month deployment to Kuwait and Iraq, and said he plans to attend the school ceremony for each of the next three years until he retires from active duty.
“I’m glad that they feel it’s important to recognize and celebrate veterans,” he said.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children through the bloodstream. It must be fought for protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” — President Ronald Reagan.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Kohler said she’s glad to catch up with friends and school staff each year, and has attended the ceremony for the past seven years, but will be elsewhere in 2019.
“Next year, I won’t be able to be here. I’ll be deployed, somewhere in the Middle East — somewhere not fun, that’s all I know,” Kohler said.
Currently a fleet manager for a construction squadron, Kohler said she decided to enlist after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and this past September marked her 18th year in uniform.
“Me and my kids have a lot of conversations, because they have no clue. Even showing them some of the documentaries, and the movies and the shows, it doesn’t do it, but it’s the same way for some of us with World War II or Vietnam,” Kohler said.
Her time in the military has “given me an appreciation of what this country stands for. Even as divided as we are right now, something like Veterans Day can bring people together.”
“No matter what side of the political arena you’re on, you need those people that are willing to defend us. It’s changed my life: I’ve gotten an education, learned how to be a leader and mentor, it helped me to guide my own children in things I never would’ve known how to do, without the skills I learned in the military.”
“It’s about how we treat our veterans every single day of the year. It’s about serving all of you as you’ve served the United States.” - President Barack Obama.
Students took turn singing patriotic songs, including “God Bless the U.S.A.,” “America” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and inspirational religious songs, before lighting ceremonial candles for each branch of the armed services. The students then placed special commemorative medals on the necks of each veteran, which depicted a bald eagle on one side and read “Mater Dei Catholic School Celebrates your Patriotism” on the other, and were donated by Anne Hirata in memory of late U.S. Army veteran Edward Hirata.
“I got a little emotional. I have two grandkids here, and it’s nice, they do a good job,” said Wayne Milam of Lansdale.
Milam served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966 to ‘70 including deployments to Vietnam, and said he hadn’t thought much about his service until one of his combat buddies found him on Facebook about five years ago.
“He said ‘So what have you been doing for the last 45 years?’ And that was the first time I actually thought, ‘45 years, my God,’” he said.
After receiving their medals, the veterans and students formed a procession from the school’s main gym and auditorium, across Lansdale Avenue to the adjacent cemetery. There, Deacon and U.S. Navy veteran Steve Vondercrone led a prayer, as he blessed a wreath that the veterans then placed atop a memorial to local veterans of World War I, II and Vietnam, and students played “Taps” on trumpets.
“America’s gratitude to our veterans is something always grounded in something greater than what you did on duty. It’s an appreciation of the example that you continue to set after your service has ended - (it’s) your example as citizens,” - President Donald Trump.
As the veterans walked out to the cemetery, Mater Dei students lined the way holding American flags, and when the veterans returned, pre-Kindergarten students waved and said “Thank you” to the vets while wearing handmade red, white and blue knit hats.
“It feels good, in a way .... I think more about the guys that aren’t here,” said Marine Corps technician Louis Fahs.
Fahs served in the Air Force fro 1966 to ‘69, including a year as a bomber and tanker support technician in Thailand, and said hew as glad his two grandsons who attend Mater Dei are learning to appreciate the military.
“This is the fourth time I’ve been here, and every year it’s different. Back in the day it was, ‘Oh, you’re home,’ no big deal,” he said.
Mater Dei Catholic School student Shannon Moore, center, poses for a photo with her grandparents, U.S. Marine Corps veterans Alan and Kay Moore, and U.S. Army veteran Gil Buentello following a Veterans Day ceremony at the school.
Local veterans and Mater Dei Catholic School students and staff bow their heads as Deacon and U.S. Navy veteran Steve Vondercrone, center, leads a prayer at Mater Dei’s memorial to fallen service members.
Mater Dei Catholic School students give medals to local veterans to thank them for their service during a Veterans Day ceremony at the school on Nov. 9.
Mater Dei Catholic School students lead a procession of roughly 100 local veterans into a ceremony honoring the veterans for their service on Nov. 9.
Local veterans view a collage of photos of their younger selves following a Veterans Day ceremony at Mater Dei Catholic School in Lansdale on Nov. 9.