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Thank you for your service

BY GABBY DAVIS - gdavis@perutribune.com

At North Miami Elementary, guests were given a toy soldier as a token to remember those who have served. 

At Peru High School, a former CIA agent shared a touching story of sacrifice that brought some in the crowd to tears.

At Maconaquah High School, a surprise visit by “Abraham Lincoln” included a dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address.

Across Miami County, those who served their country got their proper recognition from area school children and staff during a wide variety of Veterans Day programs.

Each year, Peru Junior High School student council members invite local veterans from the community and from students’ families to attend a program there. “We are honored to do this,” said student council co-chair Aryn Freels.

Among other activities on Friday, the council members read each of the creeds belonging to the military service branches. There was also a performance by the Peru High School choir, who sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” Near the end of the event, special guest speaker, retired Master Sgt. and Vietnam veteran Marvin Ryder – along with other veterans in attendance – were given red, white and blue carnations as tokens of the students’ appreciation.

At Peru High School, Student Body President Jaelin Richardson served as the MC for their Veterans Day program, and PCS Superintendent Sam Watkins welcomed the audience. “It is a great honor to be here,” Watkins said. “We come here today to honor those who are serving in the present, those who have served in the past, and those who will serve in the future. We thank each and every one of you for your service.” 

The PHS Jazz Band treated those in attendance to a WWI service medley before North Miami student Tatum Hunt showcased her vocal talent in a beautiful rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” As she sang, members of the audience stood in unison and saluted the flag.

It was an inspirational moment, one in which all ages came together in a show of patriotism and respect. 

There was also a second performance of the National Anthem by the PHS swing choir. 

Elmwood Primary Learning Center preschool students recited the Pledge of Allegiance with almost no errors, except for a few who decided to face the servicemen sitting in the front row rather than the flag itself. 

But on this special day, it almost seemed fitting that they had the student’s attention. 

Pastor Catherine Koziatek of Parkview United Methodist Church led the audience in prayer, which included thanking the many veterans in the audience for their service. Pastor Koziatek is originally from France, and much of her American family is from Elkhart and other surrounding cities in Indiana. “France and Europe are free thanks to your service, so thank you,” she said. 

Commanding Officer Denny Alexander of the local VFW presented six Miami County students with the fourth-grade “Flag Award.” To win, fourth-grade students across Miami County took a 20-question quiz and wrote an essay answering the question: “What does the American flag mean to me?” Maconaquah Elementary, Blair Pointe Elementary, and North Miami Elementary had two winners each. 

There wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium by the time former CIA agent Tom Malott, now retired, finished giving his speech.

Malott is a 1977 graduate of PHS who joined the US Coast Guard before serving 20 years with the CIA. “It is an enormous mission of self sacrifice to protect and defend us all,” he said.

Military men and women routinely risk their lives to rescue and protect those who are injured, running towards the gunfire instead of away from it. “That’s what veterans do,” he said.

Malott spoke of his time as a covert operative in South Africa, fighting alongside freedom fighters for eight months. He referred to it as “working outside the umbrella.”

“I endured the reality of a nation at war,” he said. “We had no military bases to go to for safety. No American military to call for help. No Coast Guard to find us. We were truly alone, and that was when I realized how vital our military is to our every day lives. I never, ever, want to be outside of that umbrella again that the U.S. military provides,” he said.

He told everyone to thank a veteran for their freedom, but also to respect them for what they do on a daily basis. “Offer them your ear and your hand,” he said. 

As Malott closed his speech, it became evident how much emotion he was feeling about the day. He paused to take a breath and regain his composure and then said: “I have two pieces of paper, as so many veterans do, that proclaim my actions and awards in service, but not all of them. It’s more important to be recognized here today with the best men and women in the United States.”

To close out the ceremony, Student Garrett Rogers played “Taps” and a 21 gun salute by an honor guard pierced the air outside PHS.

Men removed their hats and women bowed their heads in prayer. The flag snapped sharply in the wind, as though reminding everyone why they were standing outside on a cold, but bright, winter’s day. 

Meanwhile, at Maconaquah Elementary, teacher Denny Harts dressed up as Abraham Lincoln and gave a dramatic reading for this year’s Veterans Day program to the delight of the audience, featuring third- and fourth-grade MAC Elementary students. 

Pipe Creek Elementary and Maconaquah Middle School also had a large turn out of those who wanted to give their thanks to local veterans.

North Miami fifth-graders had their program on Wednesday for the whole school at 9 a.m. At 1 p.m., they performed for their grandparents, and at 6:30 p.m. they performed for their families, according to Sheila Fitzpatrick.

“It’s a very moving program where they recognize veterans who are family members, with a slide show presentation of their military pictures, while singing ‘Thank You,’” said Coordinator/Academic Coach Sheila Fitzpatrick. “They also made a parade of state floats to display.”

Each guest was offered a small toy soldier provided by the school to help remember those who have served.