Portage High School social studies teacher Rick Maass scratched his head. He had been asked to be the keynote speaker at Friday’s 13th annual PHS Veterans Day ceremony, and he was not a military veteran.
What could he say, he wondered, that would adequately honor the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve in the military?
Then he got his answer — from someone walking into his classroom with a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Service Before Self.”
That motto, Maass said, applies — or should apply — to anyone, service member or civilian, who wishes to live out the true meaning of patriotism.
“I dare say,” Maass observed, “that there are numerous people, sitting in this gymnasium, who have stepped up to help.”
In keeping with the ceremony’s theme of “Citizenship and Responsibility,” Maass said everyone is obligated to live a moral life, provide assistance to those who need it and stand up and speak out whenever they witness injustice.
“When we help others as good citizens,” he said, “we are being the kinds of citizens that veterans have defended for centuries.”
According to Master of Ceremonies Ed Carlson, 99 veterans, who served from the 1940s to the present, signed in for the ceremony, though there were almost certainly many more veterans present than that.
Each of the veterans who registered were recognized by name, given a red carnation and, in some cases, were saluted.
Among those honoring the veterans, in the packed gymnasium, were five future veterans.
They are Portage High School seniors who have enlisted in the military — Daniel Barr (Army), Tristan Ryan (Army), Reagan Anderson (Marines), Angelica Nelson (Marines) and Jackson Syens (Marines).
Nelson said she had aspired to serve in the military as a very young child, but as she grew up, she leaned toward exploring other opportunities.
Then she had an epiphany.
“I couldn’t help but think,” Nelson said, “that the reason I had so many opportunities in the first place was because of the men and women who served our country.”
Anderson said she was moved to volunteer for military service after talking to other Portage High School students who had done so.
“Being part of the best fighting force in the world is a pretty cool idea,” she said.
Later, she added, all branches of service are vital.
“We all serve under the same flag, after all,” Anderson said.
Representatives of all branches, and of numerous veterans groups, presented the flags of their branches and organizations.
But nearly everybody in attendance had a flag. Students handed out small U.S. flags at the doorway.
At Carlson’s cue, the entire audience applauded the veterans — and waved their flags.