Showing Respect for Community’s Veterans

School districts across Kent ISD marked Veterans Day in ways big and small on Wednesday. Here’s a sample of how a few schools honored those who have served and are serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Forest Hills Public Schools

Pine Ridge Elementary School first hosted a lunch with veterans in 2004, with just enough vets to fill a single table in the cafeteria. This year there were 80 former and active duty military men and women in attendance, and the media center was so packed the choir had to sing “Grand Old Flag” from the hallway outside.

Jane Doyle holds a card made by her great-grandson TylerOne of the most senior veterans to attend this year was Jane Baessler Doyle, 95,  great-grandmother to second-grader Spencer and fourth-grade twins Tyler and Carter Thompson. The foursome, along with Doyle’s daughter Deanna, shared a meal before the boys presented their great-grandmother with homemade cards.

What do they know about how Great-Grandma spent her youth, long before they were the proverbial twinkle in her eye? “She flew airplanes,” said Spencer between bites of mac-and-cheese.

Doyle was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots during WWII, one of few still alive.

Doyle has been given the Congressional Medal of Honor, and took a Talons Honor Flight to Washington D.C. a couple weeks ago.

She became interested in flying in 1940 while a student at Grand Rapids Junior College, now Grand Rapids Community College, when she learned of a flight program being offered by the Civilian Training Program.

More than 25,000 volunteers applied for WASP service and only about 1,100 were accepted. It is estimated that fewer than 200 are still alive.

Doyle trained in Texas and was dispatched to Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana, where she took the flight stick of planes like the 600-horsepower AT-6. She ferried planes and test flew them after they were serviced, or if a cadet reported a potential problem.

From 1942-44, WASPs flew 60,000 miles across the U.S. and delivered 12,650 aircraft.  They flew virtually every plane in the military: bombers, trainers and fighters. By the time the program was disbanded in December 1944, 38 WASP pilots had given their lives, 11 in training and 27 on active duty. The last time Doyle flew a plane was during a WASP reunion in Texas about two years ago. “They had to put a ladder up for me and give me a boost, so that was different,” she said.

Kent City Community Schools

Kent City Community Schools invited armed forces veterans and their spouses to be honored on Veterans Day. “Every year about this time we like to take time off our regular school day to honor our veterans and say thank you,” Principal Bill Crane said. Kent City/Casnovia Boy Scout Troop 332 led with the presentation of flags and Pledge of Allegiance. The Kent City Concert Choir performed “Thank you, Soldiers”, and Kent City High School senior Jordan Van Wert spoke from his award-winning school essay on “My Vision for America”. He cited the need for memorials and ceremony to keep alive the spirit of service, for country and community.

“When I was a young boy, I attended the funeral of my great-grandfather,” he told the hundreds in attendance. “He was a World War II veteran, and he was buried with military honors. Three volleys of seven shots rang, and then the bugler began to play. I had never heard ‘Taps’ played before, but, at the instant that first note echoed, I knew the honor it bestowed.”

The ceremony, which has been an annual event for about 20 years, honored approximately 120 veterans who served from 1943 through 2015 and represented all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as Jim Newman, who spent 1950-65 in the British Royal Air Force.

“It evolves and gets a few more wrinkles,” Kent City High School English teacher Jim Jakiemiec said of the annual event. “We like to change it up and make sure the kids get a bit of a different experience each year.”

Honoring veterans are, from left, Kyla Pack, Violet Wooden and Caralyn Johnson Rockford Public Schools News

Students at Rockford’s Lakes Elementary welcomed two dozen veterans for an assembly and classroom visits.

The veterans told where they had served and in what branch of the service, heard a poem read aloud and enjoyed the students singing a patriotic song. Students thanked each veteran as they left the assembly.

“It was a truly amazing and emotional day for all of us,” said Principal Sharon Wells. “One Lakes dad who is a veteran told us out of all of the ceremonies he has attended like this in his life, this one was the very best.  He was overcome with emotion having over 500 kids sing ‘God Bless America’ to them.”

Ty, Gary, Wade and Tracy Brown spent time together recently while their Dad and husband was on leave

Thornapple Kellogg Schools

When a dad, son or other family member leaves home to serve his or her country, their family stays home — worrying, wondering and missing their loved one.

“You’re missing someone most of the time,” said eighth-grader Ty Brown, son of Wade Brown, a member of the Air Force National Guard. Ty was speaking at a Veteran’s Day assembly at Thornapple Kellogg Middle School aimed at showing students how families cope with loved ones in the military.

Students heard about how stress at home comes in many ways. Laura Munjoy, the mother of Steve Munjoy, talked about the anxiety of going months without hearing from or even knowing where her son was.Ty Brown talked about how for a parent with more than one child, if two events are happening at once, the parent at home can only go to one. “You don’t get the feel of experiences with all of your family,” Ty said.

Shaun Davis, a sixth-grade science teacher at the middle school who is an Air Force veteran, said “tremendous responsibility” is given to servicemen only 20 years old, another part of war that would make family members worry.

Teacher Matt Zokoe raises the flag with help from Boy Scouts Sam Bristol and Austin Taylor Monte and Laura Munjoy both work at the middle school. He’s a physical education teacher, and she works in the counseling and business offices. After their son Steve graduated from Thornapple Kellogg, he found college wasn’t a good fit for him and joined the Navy, where he is a Master of Arms Petty Officer Second Class. “It gave him a sense of purpose,” his father said. “He has skyrocketed.”

The stress on his parents was tough, though. Steve Munjoy couldn’t tell them where he was at times, and they once went two-and-a-half months without hearing from him. “Being away from family is the worst part,” Laura Munjoy said.

Wade Brown, a staff sergeant who is on leave from the Army National Guard, spent time in Kuwait and Afghanistan serving as a door gunner, and once spent a year away from his family. Being in the military means you have to learn it’s “service before self,” he said. “I love my family dearly, but miss numerous things because I’m doing a job for my country.”

Middle school students are participating in Walking in the Footsteps veterans’ project. For $1, they can put their name on a footprint and put it up in the school hallway. The money raised will go toward buying a brick in the veteran’s memorial being planned for Middleville.

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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