SALUTE – As part of the 2020 Veterans Day ceremony at Hale Area Schools, members of Cub Scouts Pack 3990 gave a salute while leading attendees in a recital of “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

HALE – From the kindergarten students, all the way up through the senior class – along with Hale Area Schools (HAS) teachers and administrators – the entire district teamed up to acknowledge our nation’s heroes on Veterans Day.

Community members, local Cub Scouts representatives, Rev. Mel Leach of Hale First United Methodist Church and others also contributed to the celebration.

HAS students traditionally recognize military personnel with an indoor event each year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers say that they entertained the possibility of cancelling the 2020 ceremony. However, those at HAS are too passionate about veterans to let a chance to honor them pass by. So, they opted for a safe, outdoor ceremony at the school on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Between the American Flags lining the sidewalks, the patriotic attire worn by participants and the handmade displays from the students, the venue featured a sea of red, white and blue for those who joined the occasion.

Providing the welcoming remarks and serving as emcee of the event, was HAS Superintendent Robert Colby, who said he appreciated everyone attending the outdoor version of the district’s annual Veterans Day program.

He added that each year, those from HAS come together to honor the men and women who have served our country. The 2020 event was another way to show  appreciation to these veterans for their service, and to make certain that the younger generation students recognize the sacrifices made on their behalf, to ensure their freedoms.

Colby then invited Leach to the podium, to give an opening prayer.

Leach noted that the crowd was there that day to honor our country and the service members who have fought bravely for it – many of whom lost their lives in the process. “We give you thanks for all those who are currently serving around this globe, to protect our freedom.”

He also expressed gratitude for the family members of veterans, who send their loved ones off so that we might experience freedom in this land. “God, we thank you for this day; this opportunity to honor our service men and women and their families.”

Following this, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by HAS band members, under the direction of teacher Shane Billingsley, as the crowd rose to gaze at the large American Flag and place their hands on their hearts.

Jordan Barclay, who leads Cub Scouts Pack 3990 of Hale, then shared a few words as the Scouts lined up and faced the flag.

“The Pledge of Allegiance was developed in a school – not unlike the school that’s right behind us here – back in the late 1800s while our country was recovering from the Civil War,” Barclay started.

While it was redrawn over the years, he says that one key word which remains in the pledge is “indivisible.”

“And that’s an important word that I think we should remember, at a time when our country seems like it’s so divided,” he remarked.

Barclay asked the audience to stand, and as the Cub Scouts gave a salute, all in attendance joined them to recite The Pledge of Allegiance.

Also addressing the crowd were high school students Claudia Cadwell, Morgan Vance, Abigail Parkinson and Madison Hollenbeck, all of whom are in the National Honor Society.

“When Francis Scott Key wrote ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ almost 200 years ago, he called America the land of the free and the home of the brave. Those words are as true today as they were then,” said Cadwell. “Throughout this nation’s history, America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have bravely answered the call to defend our freedom, to aid our friends and allies and to turn back aggressors.”

Reciting an inscription on the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., Vance said, “We can never fully repay our debt of gratitude to the more than 650,000 American service members who died in battle, or the 1.4 million who were wounded. We can, however, recognize and thank the 25 million veterans still living today.”

As etched on the dedication stone at the memorial, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met,” Parkinson added. “Those words apply equally to many of our World War I, World War II, Vietnam War and Gulf War veterans, as well. They apply to today’s active duty service members – tomorrow’s veterans who are helping to maintain peace throughout the world.”

“Today, it is our privilege to say thank you to all of America’s veterans, to let them know we appreciate them for their service, and honor them for their sacrifices,” Hollenbeck said. “The price of freedom is high. We cannot afford to forget those willing to pay it. Today, we celebrate America’s veterans for keeping this nation the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

From here, the crowd watched as HAS third and fourth grade students made their way to the veterans in attendance.

Led by Billingsley, they sang “This Land is Your Land,” while outfitted in adorable, patriotic top hats and other festive apparel.

“In these days leading up to Thanksgiving, we can all be thankful for the gift of service that our veterans have so graciously given,” said Colby, as began to wrap up the event. “Thank you.”

He pointed out that every student in the HAS district took part in the preparations for the program. “Thank you, students, for your respectful show of support for our veterans,” he commented. “All Americans owe a debt of gratitude to those who served to keep our country free, as well as an obligation to support future generations that will preserve these same freedoms.”

Leach then gave the closing prayer, in which he again expressed thanks for the service of so many veterans past, present and those in the future, from every branch of the armed forces.

“And we thank you for this great nation you’ve allowed us to have,” he said. “Lord, I pray that we would all do our part to live up to the expectations that you would have for us, to love one another; to honor one another; to live our lives with wisdom, courage and compassion. Guide us to that end.”

To conclude the celebration, HAS band members played “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” after which all the students were seen pitching in to clean up the grounds and take down decorations.

This included a large banner they made to thank the veterans, as well as display boards with the names and photos of service members from their own families.

Colby said that HAS usually hosts a reception after their Veterans Day program, but they couldn’t do so this time around because of the pandemic. So, the students instead decorated and  stuffed goody bags for the veterans who showed up.

Colby also credited HAS teacher Julie Look for organizing the event each year. “She does a great job.”

Along with speaking to the crowd during the program, Hollenbeck – a Teacher Prep Academy cadet – helped plan the ceremony with Look.

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