School salutes veterans - Catholic Courier
Third-grader Jalon Chan (front) and his classmates recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a Nov. 10 Veterans Day ceremony at Rochester's St. John Neumann School. Third-grader Jalon Chan (front) and his classmates recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a Nov. 10 Veterans Day ceremony at Rochester's St. John Neumann School.

School salutes veterans

ROCHESTER — Clutching a crumpled tissue, Iris Fernandez watched Nov. 10 as students from St. John Neumann School sang patriotic songs and said thank you to the approximately 20 veterans visiting their school.

Veterans Day, Fernandez said, is not the same since the Nov. 16, 2010, death of Marine Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz-Rivera, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, while on his third tour of duty abroad.

"You think about him more," said Fernandez, whose daughter attends the school. "You appreciate him more."

This was the fourth year that St. John Neumann School has hosted a Veteran’s Day prayer service, during which students read Scripture, prayers and poems, and sang patriotic songs honoring each branch of the military. The service took place the day before the Nov. 11 holiday because school was closed for Veterans Day.

The event has had a profound effect on the veterans in past years, according to organizer Mary Beth Sullivan. She said staff from some senior homes had told her that their participating veterans were more outgoing following previous ceremonies.

"Some of them had never left their room before, but to be recognized really had a positive effect on them," said Sullivan, who is the school’s educational-technology coordinator.

The veterans had a chance to speak in front of the students and tell them when and where they served. Straight and tall they stood in a line, some wearing their old uniforms, and they spoke about serving in wars ranging from World War II to the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Today I stand before you, and I seek mercy," one veteran said. "Mercy."

Gary Klebes, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1969 to 1976, including four months of active duty, attended at the invitation of his granddaughter.

"I’m just happy that I was able to serve my country," Klebes said.

Jackie Klebes, 11, his granddaughter, a sixth-grader at the school, said she is grateful and indebted to those who served, including her grandfather and her great-grandfather, who served in World War II.

"They served their country and gave up their lives, even though they knew they could have died, and they did it all for us," Jackie said.

Katrina Olson, 10, a fifth-grader at St. John Neumann, said the event made her think about her father, Jeffrey Olson, who has served in the U.S. Air Force and in the U.S. Army, and the service of those who attended the ceremony.

"I was so very appreciate about what they did," Katrina said.

Some welcomed the chance to teach those at the ceremony about the history they had lived. For instance, Donald Pero told about his time fighting in the fierce battle on the island of Iwo Jima. The battle lasted 36 days and resulted in nearly 20,000 Japanese killed and more than 6,800 Americans killed, according to a history of the battle on the website of the U.S. Navy Department Library.

Pero, an engineer with the Fifth Marine Division, noted that he and his fellow engineers were tasked with shutting down the entrances to the miles of tunnels and caves that crisscrossed the heavily fortified island.

"We went out with infantry on the front lines to close the caves," he said.

He said he didn’t get to see the iconic flag raising on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi that was captured in a famous photograph because he was on the front lines at the time.

However, he does still keep in touch with the members of his unit who are still alive — there are about 14, he said.

"I feel honored to be here," Pero said.

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