I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America .
The words above are ingrained in all of our hearts and minds, something we recite by rote when called upon to do so. But do any of us ever stop to think about what the words mean?
Hoping to instill a more profound love of country in community members, the Liverpool Public Library held its sixth annual Veterans Appreciation Evening on Thursday Nov. 9. At the event, eight veterans answered questions posed by five sixth-graders from Morgan Road Elementary about what it means to be a veteran. The event also featured vocal and piano performances, the recitation of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem and refreshments.
Nov. 11 has been set aside to honor American veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the United States of America, said Elizabeth Dailey, LPL’s executive director. These veterans are here tonight to tell us their stories. For them, patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice are more than just words.
Cindy Hibbert of the library said that LPL holds the event every year to honor veterans and educate people about their experiences. A different school participates every year with the library choosing the school that will come up with the questions. This year was MRE’s turn.
We were thrilled when the library contacted us about being a part of this program, said Jesika Hartwell, an MRE teacher who advised the students that asked the questions. The questions all came from the students. We brainstormed questions about what it means to be a veteran and the most relevant questions were chosen.
Those questions, the student that asked each question and some of the answers provided by the veterans follow.
When and in what war did you serve? — Lauren Busby
Four of the eight veterans (Jerry Lepinske, John Grom, Garrey Curry and Dick Kimiak) on the panel served in the Vietnam War. Some spent time in country, fighting the good fight, while others served in support positions in other countries like Germany and even in the U.S. on military bases.
Two veterans (Dino Paschetto and Al Sahm) served in World War II, one in the South Pacific and the other on a military base in Hawaii.
Another vet (George Alessio) spent his time in the service in Italy during the Cold War. He is still a member of the naval reserves.
The last veteran (Howard Subis) served on a naval ship during the Korean War.
Did you stay friends with the people you met in the service? — Jason Ptaszek
Most expressed regret that they had lost touch with their former buddies. All pointed out that the friends you make in the service are unlike any friends you’ll make anywhere else.
The camaraderie is something you never forget, Alessio said. He said that since he is a reservist and must go for training every year, he still gets to see his old buddies. It’s like we never left.
We were all 19 at the same time, said Vietnam vet Lepinske. There’s nothing like that.
Why did you join the service? — Greg Cheek
While many were compelled to join by the draft, others chose to do so, and all expressed pride and gratitude for the opportunity to have served their country. Some were drawn by the promise of three square meals and clean sheets, others by the promise of adventure overseas.
I was bored, Lepinske said with a laugh. I was looking for adventure It was very difficult the first year, but it was a good experience.
Grom, who was drafted, agreed. It’s good for young people to see how other people live, he said. You realize how much we have here in America. It made me very grateful.
Grom’s son, Phil, a 1999 graduate of Liverpool High School, recently returned from his second tour of Iraq with the Air Force.
What is your best memory of your time in the service? — Katie Rankin
It’s hard to point to just one, Subis said.
The rest agreed. However, the vets were able to describe some of their more memorable experiences.
Vietnam was a different world, Lepinske said. It was amazing to see all of the vibrant greens. The foliage was amazing.
Others pointed to specific events.
My greatest memory was when Japan surrendered, Sahm said. Our whole military base [in Hawaii] exploded. We just went wild.
Alessio recalled a service mission in which he and his unit brought water and medicine to a leper colony off the Indian Ocean. He recalled a blind woman who had lost her hands to the disease smiling at him and asking what America was like. He told of children who would likely contract the disease, smiling and grateful for the materials that he and his fellow soldiers provided.
The image of the infantry soldier with a gun shooting at the enemy, that’s not all it is, Alessio said. You’re helping people. You’re doing so much more.
What kind of food did you eat? — Mickayla Williams
After the somber mood of the last question, the subject of food elicited good-natured groans and brought levity back to the room.
Let’s just say that the mess hall was aptly named, Kimiak quipped.
There was something called bully beef, Paschetto recalled. It looked like a bunch of strings put together . It was tasty, though.
After the question-and-answer period, Alessio and Paschetto showed off some of their wartime souvenirs. While Alessio had a yearbook depicting his time in the Indian Ocean, Paschetto, who had spent time in the Philippines during the Second World War, had more tangible items: a Japanese cigarette case that was more than 60 years old, two pieces of currency from the period in which Japan occupied the Philippines and a replica of an old flag like those Japanese soldiers carried as reminders of home.
Other veterans in the audience were asked to stand and be recognized. The audience stood and applauded them for the virtues they had learned so much about: patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the United States
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.