Jones Middle School continued a 15-year tradition last week by hosting its annual November luncheon to honor U.S. military veterans.
The Veterans Day Luncheon provides the vets -- students' relatives, family friends and neighbors -- the chance to share their military experiences, help to educate younger generations and remind them of the sacrifices that have been made to protect the U.S. and nations around the world.
The luncheon, along with other programs held annually at Wickliffe Elementary and Hastings Middle School, also is an opportunity to honor the veterans with performances and speeches thanking them for their service.
"This event has taken place for 15 years and everyone involved, including the teachers, students, veterans and parents, all agree it is a very special day," said Kim Cullen, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Jones. "It is an event that has to continue for as long as it can.
"Our country enjoys the freedom that these veterans earned for us and this luncheon is a small token of appreciation for their sacrifices."
This year, 89 veterans and active service members attended.
They included 16 veterans of World War II, like 97-year-old John Bergman, a code breaker during the conflict.
"Outside of Washington (D.C.) there were 25 chosen to be code breakers," said Sandy Stoller, Bergman's daughter. "He was in college and they called him and said, 'We need you.'
"He said, 'What for?'and they said, 'I'll tell you tomorrow.'
"Until 1985, we never knew, my mother never knew," Stoller continued. "He went all over the world."
Bergman looked up as his daughter finished the story and added, "I just did a job. There was a job to do and we did it."
Bergman attended this year's Jones Veterans Day Luncheon to spend time with his great-granddaughter, eighth-grader Kate Kershner.
But he's attended the event in past years, as well.
"I know a lot of these guys," he said. "That's why I walk around."
The luncheon encouraged camaraderie among those who served and that was on display throughout the two-and-a-half-hour event.
The veterans share stories and also make the rounds in the school's gymnasium. Handshakes, hugs and salutes among those who've served or those still serving is a common sight.
Students are tasked with conducting mini-interviews of their guests to gain insights into their personal sacrifices and U.S. history.
Uniforms and a multitude of historical artifacts from various military branches also are on display, and in many cases, students learn more about history as they peruse the items with guests.
"You know what this is?" former Columbus mayor and U.S. Navy veteran Greg Lashutka asked his grandson, Kuyper Lashutka and Jones students Kendall Crotty and Halle Goodwin as they scanned World War II paraphernalia. "It's a scarf with a map.
"That would be your map if you were shot down. If they crashed, it was their map to get them out of there."
As he does each year, Jones Principal Jason Fine asked students and other guests to honor veterans for their service and sacrifices daily.
Cullen said the luncheon is a gesture to show appreciation for vets, but added she hoped it drives home deeper lessons.
"Our school community hopes that veterans enjoy the interaction with our eighth-grade students and the opportunity to teach our students about our country's past, including the stories of heroism that are sometimes lost over time," she said. "We want to make sure our veterans know that we appreciate their service and acknowledge the sacrifices they have made for us.
"Our students love this event and look forward to interacting with veterans and active duty members of their own families and our community to hear about their military experiences," Cullen said. "History comes alive to our students, and for many, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience."