Middle School of Poplarville celebrates veterans
Published 7:00 am Thursday, November 12, 2015
“In honor of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. The names of those who gave their lives and of those who remain missing are inscribed in the order they were taken from us.” –– Preamble of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
On Veterans Day, the students at Middle School of Poplarville paid homage to the nation’s military servicemen and women during the school’s ninth annual Veterans Day program.
This year’s theme was the Vietnam veteran, Middle School of Poplarville performing arts teacher and program coordinator Bettye Nelson said.
Nine years ago, when Nelson began working at the school, she inquired about a Veterans Day program.
“I was told that the history teachers spoke about veterans to children on that day and I said, “no, we need to make it a community-wide event,”’ Nelson said. “Students learn best by talking to veterans. I’m the one honored by my students. They are the best. The two days we practiced, they were quiet and respectful; they can see what it means.”
Each year, the students host a breakfast and program. Last year’s program included a demonstration of proper flag burning and information about the Purple Heart.
For this year’s program, students learned about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, located in Washington D.C., where the names of those who were killed are etched.
The students, who are in grades sixth through eighth, run the entire program, Nelson said. Students read tributes to the nation’s military, the band performed patriotic songs, and students from the chorus performed “A Tribute to Heroes.”
Two short videos were played during the program, one featured former President Ronald Reagan’s tribute to fallen veterans and the other told the story of the Vietnam Veterans Wall.
Near the end of the program, as each military branch’s anthem played, veterans were asked to stand.
Two veterans were recognized during the ceremony.
The first was the late Richard Castleberry. He was a World War II veteran who witnessed the signing of the treaty of peace, Nelson said.
His widow Alma accepted the plaque on behalf of her husband. In prior years, Richard Castleberry spoke to students about the kamikaze hitting the USS Lexington, where he was served, his wife said.
“He was proud, although he rarely mentioned what happened,” Alma Castleberry said of her husband. “It’s a wonderful idea for them to think of him. He suffered from Alzheimer’s and couldn’t speak last year. I took care of him at home, it wasn’t easy, but I don’t regret it. It’s a wonderful idea for the students to think of him. They should be exposed to veterans more because they have no idea what price was paid for their freedom.”
Vietnam veteran Bill Windham was also honored. He was wounded during the conflict and the recipient of two Purple Hearts.
Eighth-grader Morgan Prince said she was happy to serve breakfast to and meet the veterans. “They fought for our country, she said, and it’s nice to give them something in return.”
Whitney Barnhardt, also an eighth-grader, said she never knew how hard they worked and the ultimate price they paid until she really looked at the history.
“I have family who serve in the military,” Barnhardt said. “It’s always occurred to me that it’s a blessing and honor for them to serve and I just want to repay it back.”
Billy W. Creel served in the United States Army from 1974 to 1980 and said the school’s program is great.
“It’s a good thing to still be recognized,” he said. “I believe everybody should serve their country in one way or another. It’s a really great experience and keeps you out of trouble, at least for me anyways.”
Marion Stephens served in the United States Navy from 1953 until 1986. He spent all but four years of his service on sea duty.
He also spent 17 months in Vietnam on a heavy cruiser, which he described as rough.
“I saw the program last year and it was real good,” Stephens said. “My grandson Gavin McAllen invited me. It’s good for the students to learn. It’s part of their history. They need to know that everything we have in this country is not free, it had to be fought for.”