Elementary, high school students salute veterans

A Seton student thanks First Lieutenant Airman Matt Bender from Luke Air Force Base in Glendale for his service following a school presentation Nov. 12. Seton students also offered a rosary for the U.S. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN

A Seton student thanks First Lieutenant Airman Matt Bender from Luke Air Force Base in Glendale for his service following a school presentation Nov. 12. Seton students also offered a rosary for the U.S. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN

Whether they had class Nov. 11 or not, students throughout the Diocese of Phoenix found ways to honor veterans, pray for them and learn more about military life.

Two elementary schools and two high schools were among those who organized tributes. Students at Sacred Heart in Prescott took a multi-pronged approach planting 70 students in the veterans parade — scouts, junior high students and cheerleaders — alongside Dennis Filiger, a language arts teacher and member of the Air Force. Junior high students created a banner for the parade displaying names of veterans related to Sacred Heart students (see photos).

Another 100 K-5 students stood on the sidelines. They were active spectators passing out cards to veterans in the crowd. David Ticer, an Army veteran who served overseas 1990-91, was so moved by the gesture that he wrote a letter to the editor in The Daily Courier.

Eighth-graders at Blessed Pope John XXIII School in Scottsdale organized a salute as their Faith in Action project (see photos). They recruited every K-8 student to make a card or write a letter for a veteran or member of the military on active duty.

Blessed Pope John XXIII students extend their hands in blessing as some 35 active duty and retired military personnel process into the courtyard for a Veterans Day celebration.  (courtesy of Blessed Pope John XXIII School)

Blessed Pope John XXIII students extend their hands in blessing as some 35 active duty and retired military personnel process into the courtyard for a Veterans Day celebration. (courtesy of Blessed Pope John XXIII School)

Students cheered on nearly three dozen service members in the school courtyard as they emerged from a private, catered reception. They also personally greeted each one and handed them a card.

“A little recognition and thanks goes a long way for these veterans,” said Allicen Preciado, eighth-grade religion teacher.

Rex Reeves, chaplain for Sacred Heart Hospice, couldn’t agree more.

“Without question, whenever I go into their home at the end of their life, these cards are on display,” Reeves said, holding a stack he planned to spend the rest of Veterans Day delivering to home-bound veterans.

It’s especially meaningful for those in hospice, he said, as they often don’t get to see or interact with children. One veteran last year was so happy to have correspondence that he wrote back to the student answering all of her questions. He passed away three weeks later.

A few students at Blessed Pope John hope to become regular pen pals with a veteran. Others plan to visit. Students at both Blessed Pope John and two Catholic high schools had classroom visits and assembly-style presentations from veterans and active duty military as part of their tributes.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Allen Keene, a decorated Army soldier still on active duty, shared his military journey with Notre Dame Preparatory students in Scottsdale (see photos). A double panel of speakers, including two alumni, addressed students at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School in Chandler Nov. 12.

“There are two days on the calendar that are very important to me and I didn’t understand them growing up,” Marc Sepulvada, a 2003 graduate from Seton told students gathered in the chapel.

The Iraq and Afghanistan veteran clarified the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Then Sepulvada explained his about face from dreading long days at the cemetery and VFW as a child to embracing that tradition today. Those days are holidays because of the sacrifices service men and women have made for the country, he said.

“Just like our faith, we always have to remember that and reflect on that,” Sepulvada said.

Active duty service members pray the rosary for the United States alongside Seton students and staff Nov. 12 (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Active duty service members pray the rosary for the United States alongside Seton students and staff Nov. 12. The fifth decade particularly calls to mind members of the military. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Most students had at least one relative fight in a war dating back to World War II. Many students, especially Seton’s football team, know about Air Force Captain P.J. Burke, a 2002 Seton alum. The team spent the better part of last season praying for him while the Luke Air Force Base captain was deployed in Afghanistan. He presented the flag flown during that mission to the school and thanked students for their prayers. Four people, including a chaplain, were injured during that mission.

“You do occasionally get shot at, but to me, it’s the most rewarding job in the world,” Burke said about being a medic.

The idea of saving someone’s life, especially during the “golden hour” is priceless, he said.

He hoped Seton students left with an appreciation for those in the military. Burke downplayed his “four months on, four months off” schedule and pointed instead to the toll longer deployments take on the family.

“It’s sad to realize not too many people know what the military does,” Burke said.

He hoped Americans find ways to learn about military life in future patriot holidays.

The Seton community ended the veterans tribute by praying the Rosary for the USA. The seniors clutched red, white and blue prayer beads provided by Magnalite Catholic, a local company that develops custom religious products. Student council leaders from each class led the first four decades with the veteran guest speakers leading the final decade, which is offered specifically for the military.

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