THE IMPORTANCE OF VETERANS DAY
SHERRILL, N.Y. >> For some veterans, they never receive a thank you or even an acknowledgement for their service. The Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library and E.A. McAllister Elementary School are working to change that.
By starting the Veterans Day letter writing campaign with the elementary school, students have been able to reach out to veterans across the area and thank them for their service.
The Sherrill library started the Veterans Day letter writing event after Library Director Mary Kay Junglen realized some of the children in her Veterans Day events did not know what the day meant or why it was celebrated. To remedy this, Junglen approached the Sherrill American Legion Post 230 and asked for their help to update their collection of Veterans Day books.
Junglen said the original books the library had were older and unattractive to younger audiences. Thanks to the Sherrill American Legion, books detailing each branch of the military and past conflicts helped educate children and soon became their most checked out books.
When the school became involved, Junglen said students were given names of local veterans to write to and many were surprised. They had no idea they were getting letters from children and it touched thema fewin a special way.
“I had one veteran come in last year, crying. He said he had never been thanked by a school-aged child before,” Junglen said. “It broke my heart, but at the same time, I thought that the library could change this. And we have.”
Kindergarten students would make laminated bookmarks and Junglen would see them get into the hands of any patrons who visited the library who served their country.
Col. Clark Speicher of the United States Air Force, one of those patrons, was one of the veterans reached out to by students and in turn, he thought he’d give back.
“Colonel Speicher was one of the veterans who received a surprise pack of letters in his mailbox,” Junglen said. “He was so appreciative, he came into the library and asked what he could do for next year.”
Speicher said it’s important to help children understand what a veteran is and the sacrifices they’ve made throughout the history of the country to help keep it safe.
On Nov. 6, Speicher sat down with more than 30 local veterans and read “What is Veterans Day?” to children in grades pre-k-6. The book is one of several available at the Sherrill library.
“It’s a special day. What special day is this?” Speicher read. “There are parades. People bring flowers to soldiers’ graves. We thank those that served in the armed forces. It must be Veterans Day. Our veterans are people who have served in the armed forces who kept our country free and safe. They put their lives in danger to do this. Many have died for our freedom.”
Speicher read to the entire E.A. McAllister student body from the book and took questions from students.
One young student asked if veterans work for the military.
“Veterans are people who used to be in the military,” Speicher said. “One thing neat about being a veteran and having Veterans Day events is that people like me and all the people up here who are veterans can wear their uniforms like I do today. But they’re no longer in the military. They served their country for years and now they’re veterans.”
A young girl asked Speicher what it was like to be in the Air Force and Speicher smiled.
“It is the coolest thing to be in the Air Force,” Speicher said. “It’s a lot fun and there are a lot of different careers in the military. You can be a doctor, you can be a police officer, you can do all sorts of different jobs.”
When asked how long he was in the Air Force, Speicher said he served for 30 years, much to the student body’s amazement. The sounds of children crying out “wow” was quickly drowned out by a round of applause.
“It seems like a long time, but it went by quickly,” Speicher said.
The students latched onto Speicher’s time flying aircraft and asked him what the inside of a jet looked like, if his plane had weapons on it, and if he ever was in combat.
Speicher explained his plane was much like a commercial airliner and even had a cabin where people could sleep or have a cup of coffee, but his plane was never attacked.
“We flew very high and far away from enemy airplanes and all our U.S. Air Force fighter jets protected us from the bad guys,” Speicher said. “So we never had that happen, fortunately.”
Speicher said it’s important to remember that the military and veterans play an important role in not just conflict, but peacekeeping, such as helping those affected by natural disasters. After hurricanes and floods, Speicher said the military is there for local governments who may not have the resources to quickly get back on their feet.
Students of all ages got a chance to introduce their family who served in themilitary and were invited to attend the event.
Pre-kindergarten student Gracie Pfluger introduced John Walts, Navy, Pete Bender, U.S. Marines, and Nathan Walts, Navy; second-grade student Dawson Collins introduced Josh Lindermann, U.S. Marines; fifth-grade student Calvin Dieteman introduced KC Baney, U.S. Army; and more than a dozen more students introduced veterans in their lives to give them a moment to be recognized by the community.
But before veterans had a chance to leave, students had one more surprise for them; the E.A. McAllister student body sang for local veterans a rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Some students were able to deliver their letters by hand to local veterans who sat and talked with each other over coffee and donuts after the event.
Speicher said when it comes to bridging the gap and what local members of the community can do to help veterans, it’s important to remember there are veterans who need help.
“There are organizations in the community, like the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center. That’s one place I support in our Sherrill Rotary Club,” Speicher said. “You donate food, clothing and household items to veterans in need that perhaps aren’t as well off as others.”
Speicher said he enjoyed his timewith the elementary students and hoped the children take home with them a “newfound appreciation of what it means to be veteran and they understand what a veteran is.”
“And an appreciation for the sacrifices veterans have made in their military career to serve the United States,” he added.
Speicher said the United State still sees ongoing conflicts around the world and people are deployed across places like Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of Africa and fighting not just the war on terror, but other conflicts like stomping out drug trades looking to make their way to the United States. And while members of the armed forces fight, some lose their lives.
“An army major was killed recently in Afghanistan,” Speicher said. “I think it’s important for people to realize that this is still happening and understand what it means to serve the country, and then be a veteran.”
Colonel Clark Speicher reads to the students of E A McAllister Elementary School about the meaning of Veterans Day on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.