It was the 11th hour of the 11th day, on the 11th month, for the 11th time. In 1997 Bigfork High School teacher Mary Sullivan spearheaded an effort to start up a Veteran’s Day Assembly.
Sullivan says this event is created and designed by the students. Their chosen theme this year came from a quote by Jose Narosky: “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
“In my classes, students do not all agree: politically or morally, about the wars we are currently waging,” Sullivan said in an address during the assembly. “However, they all join together to support you – our veterans – for your sacrifice, and for your service.”
Sullivan noted essays written by her students about veterans, and how many of those veterans are family members.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars awarded students who placed first through fifth in The Patriot’s Pen essay contest. The contest asked students to write about why American Veterans should be honored. Another contest at the high school level was The Voice of Democracy. Bridger Mahlum won first prize in that contest for his essay entitled “Exemplified Courage”. Mahlum answered the question of why the service and sacrifice by America’s Veterans benefits today’s youth.
“No one can teach patriotism like the veterans,” Mahlum read from his speech, “not parents, not a televised historian, not even the President himself. Their service and sacrifice show the next generation that nothing comes free, and everything we take for granted must be battled for every day.”
This year high school students honored those gathered through song and speech, and also welcomed members of the V-F-W as they set the “Missing Man” table. The table ceremony honors Prisoner’s of War and those Missing in Action. The table is set with six empty seats, a hat at each setting, as a remembrance of those in the 5 branches of the armed services, and civilians, whose were captured, or whose fate is unknown.
As Bigfork High School’s band played a medley of Armed Service songs, veterans in the crowd stood as the theme song for the army, navy, marines, or air force played. Some stood quickly and easily, some more slowly, and some were helped to stand as the crowd applauded.
For many gathered, it was a time to both reflect and remember. Charles Edwards served with the U-S Air Force from 1955-1959, during the Cold War. He served in Greenland, Saudi Arabia, and Central America. He says he’s seeing fewer of the veterans he once knew, and he comes to honor the others.
“I try not to be emotional, but I can’t help but get tears, especially when I look around at the some of the guys, and what a lot of them have been through,” said Edwards. “Some of them I can’t even imagine, what some of them from the Second World War went through, and Vietnam.”
Corporal David Bermel served with the U-S Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1970-72. He says he’s come to Bigfork’s assemblies since they first started, and keeps coming every year because of the students.
“I feel anymore we owe it to the kids,” said Bermel, “the kids do all this work to honor us, so veterans should go to the program, just to honor the kids back.”
At the end, as veterans from all branches of the armed services mingled the elementary, middle and high school students filed out of the room – many with the red poppies the VFW had passed out wrapped around their fingers or held in their hands.
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