In the United States, it is no longer a common thing to see everyday citizens singing the national anthem or another patriotic song.
However, during a Veterans Day ceremony at West Deptford Middle School on Tuesday morning, everyone in attendance, from teachers and staff to students and veterans, gave a stunning rendition of "God Bless America." After hearing Army veteran William Peters speak, how could they not sing?
Peters and four other military veterans visited the middle school to talk to the school's sixth-graders about their experiences in the U.S. Armed Forces and to thank the kids for all of their support.
The group of five veterans included Peters, World War II Army veteran Al Aureli, World War II Navy veteran James Childress, Army veteran and West Deptford High School graduate Eric Mizner and Air Force sergeant and former Marine Chuck Oehlert.
Peters was the first to talk and he captivated the kids right off the bat. He began serving in the Army just after the Korean War and, based on his experiences in Korea, made sure to tell the kids how fortunate they are in America.
“When you look around and see what's going on in other countries and states, I'm just so thankful,” said Peters. “I thank the Lord every day that I live in America.”
The overall message of the morning was twofold. The veterans preached that they needed all the support they could get from the community. At the same time, they told the students to not take things for granted at home.
“You have to be faithful to your country,” said World War II veteran Al Aureli. “You have to be there when they need you.”
While all five veterans are from the area, Mizner hails directly from the West Deptford school community, having graduated from West Deptford High School in 2000. After graduation, he served six years in the Army, including a short stint in Baghdad, Iraq.
Mizner encouraged the sixth-graders to consider entering the military after high school. He talked to the kids about how much of a positive, life-changing experience his tenure was for him.
“There's values that you learn in the service that you can't learn in high school and college,” said Mizner.
The speeches given to the students were very open and honest. Oehlert stated that he had experience with many different weapons during his time in the Marines and Air Force. When some of the students began asking about the different type of weapons he used, he talked about their power, but also cautioned the kids.
“This isn't a video game where you can just press start and begin all over again,” said Oehlert. “This is war, this is real life. There are real people with real serious injuries.”
While the event as a whole was eye-opening for the sixth-graders, many of the students have heard military stories from their own family and friends. At the end of the event, students who had relatives that were in the military were asked to stand. More than half of the sixth-graders rose from their seats. There was a great sense of pride for all those who serve, both in attendance and elsewhere.