Vets honored at 25th program

Ron Burtz
For the 25th year in a row, Custer School District honored those who have served and are serving in the nation’s armed services at its annual Veterans Day program Monday. 
Hundreds of children and adults packed the Custer Armory at 2 p.m. to hear over an hour of songs by students in all grades, patriotic music by the high school band, poems and readings honoring veterans and a speech by guest speaker Kevin Morello of Black Hawk. 
Following the presentation of colors by the Civil Air Patrol Honor Guard, the CHS band played the National Anthem, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Girl Scout Troop 71110. 
Students Kelley Wicks and Faun Hansen participated in the POW/MIA Empty Chair ceremony and the lighting of the Remembrance Candle. 
School children in junior kindergarten through grade three sang “Thank A Vet” and grades four through six performed “Sacrifices Made” under the direction of CES music teacher Jody Tennyson. 
The CHS choir performed “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” and “The Battle Cry of Freedom” directed by Michaela Doyle. 
Morello, the American Legion state vice commander of areas 1 and 2, began his comments by addressing what he called the “most important audience members: our children, our future.”
Morello charged the children in attendance to honor veterans, whom he said make up a 10th of the population, because they “stood up to defend our way of life, what we value as described in the constitution by becoming a member of the U.S. military.”                                                                                                                                                             
“Veterans gave in World War I ... so we could have freedom of religion,” said Morello. “Veterans gave in World War II ... so we could have freedom of speech. Veterans gave in the Korean War ... so we could have freedom of press. Veterans gave in Vietnam ... so we could have the right to bear arms. Veterans gave in Iraqi Freedom ... so we could have the right to vote.”
Morello said students could honor veterans by “upholding our way of life, our values and our democracy.” 
“Please don’t disrespect the American flag,” pleaded Morello. “So many veterans died for what it represents.”
Morello recounted the history of the American Legion which was formed in the wake of WWI and is celebrating its centennial this year. He said the organization has impacted veterans and the nation in dramatic ways through its various programs and initiatives.
He said the nation’s debt to veterans can never be repaid, “but our gratitude and respect must last forever.” 
Morello urged the audience to show that gratitude in practical ways by hiring veterans, visiting VA hospitals or donating to a veterans’ program.
“Homelessness is another issue that affects veterans,” said Morello. “Too often today the tattered citizen of the street was yesterday’s toast of the town in a crisp uniform with rows of shiny medals. This is hardly the thanks of a grateful nation. We must do better.” 
CHS student council advisor Sandy Arseneault recognized the 25th anniversary of the school’s Veterans Day program and presented a plaque to Mark Mills of the American Legion for his years of involvement in organizing the program. 
As the high school band played a medley of the marches of the armed forces, veterans were asked to stand as their march was played. Custer Cub Scouts handed out a red rose to each veteran in attendance. 
A video presentation was played showing the names and photos of local veterans who died in the past year. 
After the playing of TAPS by two students and the retrieval of the colors, the band closed out the program with a rendition of John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

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