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Learning why American veterans matter

November 11, 2008

Donna Pile Allen has taught Washington County students about sex and marriage and Bester Elementary School students about table manners and etiquette.

But her most important contribution during her 30-plus years of teaching in Washington County and West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle might be teaching students on both sides of the Potomac River about veterans and the debt that all Americans owe to them.

On Monday, the Spring Mills Middle School in Berkeley County where Allen now teaches held its fourth annual celebration for veterans. Students at the school invited parents and grandparents who had served in the U.S. military to attend -- an idea every middle school principal should consider emulating.

The program began with the presentation of colors by the Martinsburg High School ROTC, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the "Pledge of Allegiance Song," sung by Bailey Kershner.

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Guest speaker for the event was Larry Eugene Smith, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps who is now retired.

Smith gave the more than 200 students who assembled a history of Veterans Day and noted that it was first celebrated as Armistice Day in 1926, to honor the veterans of World War I.

In 1954, Smith said, the president decided that all veterans of all the nation's wars should be honored.

The fact that it was changed in that way makes it clear, Smith said, that "every generation has to pay a price," for the freedoms Americans enjoy.

Some of the other veterans in attendance included:

o Karl Rohrer, who served in the Air Force from 1944 to 1976, most of the time as a tail gunner of a B-17.

He appreciated the ceremony, he said.

"It was just beautiful," he said, adding that "it makes you proud."

o Also in attendance was Larry Caskey, who served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1995 in various intelligence-gathering units, including Army Intelligence and the Army Security Agency.

One of his jobs, he said, was to monitor the Soviet Union's missile technology.

o Rob Hughes said his 12-year-old son has been trying to persuade him to attend these events, but this is the first year he agreed.

Hughes served in the Army from 1993 to 2007, with tours in the Balkans and Iraq. He now works for the U.S. Department of Defense.

o The youngest veterans in attendance might have been 23-year-old Luke Manfield, who wore his USMC dress uniform to the event.

Hughes, who has 11 months in, soon heads to Pensacola, Fla., for additional training.

Marc Arvon, principal of the school, told students that the service of these and other veterans "has given us the privileges, rights and freedoms that we enjoy today."

It's all about the sacrifice that these people have made, Arvon said.

Some come back with mental and physical scars, Arvon said.

"Freedom is not free," he said.

The program ended with a rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," sung by students as they enthusiastically waved small U.S. flags.

The veterans honored Monday included the following, though for some, information about the branch of the military in which they served was not available.

o Larry E. Smith, lieutenant colonel, USMC.

o Bernard L. Murphy, private first class. U.S. Army.

o Leo J. Parlett, senior master sergeant, USAF.

o Karl Rohrer, tech sergeant, USAF.

o Claude "Bud" Coburn, private first class, USMC.

o Jim Jones, specialist, U.S. Army.

o Jimmy Harless, chief warrant officer, USN.

o Joseph Boarman, specialist, U.S. Army.

o Richard Harne, corporal, U.S. Army.

o Rob Hughes, sergeant first class, U.S. Army.

o Pat Murphy, sergeant, USMC.

o Andy Mapes, sergeant first class, U.S. Army

o Richard Allen, sergeant, U.S. Army.

o Robert Socks, staff sergeant, USAF.

o Ranae Elekes, captain, USAF.

o Robert Tucker, sergeant, USMC.

o Matthew Athey, aerial technician second class, USN.

o Philip L. Kidrick, sergeant, U.S. Army.

o Scott Moore, staff sergeant, USAF.

o Matthew Werhoff, sergeant first class, U.S. Army.

The following were listed as veterans by the school, but without their rank or branch of the service:

Carl F. Cressel, Clearence Eaton, John Elekes, Caleb T. Swartz, Jeffrey Udelhofen and James Wilkinson.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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