GUEST OPINION: Schools have special role to honor America’s veterans

Stephen Guthrie

As educators, we strive to demonstrate to our students the values of service, selflessness and sacrifice embodied by our veterans, whether they served during conflict or peacetime.

They gave up connections to home and family, went through grueling training, and were sent to far-off bases, ships and postings. Some fought and were wounded. Some healed those who were injured. Some gave their all to protect our nation and its people.

On the observance of Veterans Day, schools are typically closed so students can attend or serve at events. But saluting America’s veterans is not just a one-day exercise in patriotism. This year, at Sussex Technical High School, we wanted to do more than that, and help the service of our veterans come alive for our entire student body.

On Friday, Nov. 9, we are bringing all 1,200 students together for a schoolwide assembly to honor Sussex County’s veterans. In this first year, we will recognize veterans with connections to the school – parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and others.

We are privileged to have several Sussex Tech staff members who have served in the armed forces, and now serve our school system with distinction. We are proud of our thriving and dynamic JROTC program, as well as our many alumni who have gone on to serve in the armed forces, putting their career and technical educations to good use in a variety of specialties.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, then known as the Great War, or the “war to end all wars.” While there are no more survivors of the generation that fought that war, we take to heart the life of Frank Buckles, America’s last living veteran from that age. Mr. Buckles enlisted at age 16 in the U.S. Army, lying about his age, and drove vehicles in Europe. As it would happen, during World War II, as a civilian he was captured and held as a prisoner in the Philippines. Later in life, he advocated for a memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor the service of the men and women of the first World War – 4.7 million in all. Work is now under way on that memorial, expected to open in 2021.

Closer to home, I also think of the examples set by Steven Hudson and Donald Hirneisen. Mr. Hudson served in the Korean War; Mr. Hirneisen served in World War II. Both left school before graduating. But in June, they walked across the stage at commencement for the James H. Groves Adult High School, a vital part of the Sussex Technical School District, to receive their high school diplomas – Mr. Hudson at age 74 and Mr. Hirneisen at age 88. Their dedication to their country and their commitment to lifelong learning and completing their education deserves special recognition.

At our Veterans Day event, we will honor and thank veterans from World War II to the present. Those attending have served in wartime and in peace, here at home and abroad. They represent the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. They are our students’ mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our grandfathers and grandmothers.

It is our hope that our students take the messages they impart to heart, and continue to learn from their lessons and lives.

Stephen Guthrie

Stephen Guthrie is superintendent of the Sussex Technical School District.

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