During Hastings Middle School's annual Veterans Day Recognition Program on Nov. 11, students honored veterans and heard about the ideals and sacrifices of military members and their families.

For more than 20 years, students at Hastings Middle School have honored those who served in the military each Veterans Day.

This week, the school welcomed in veterans from all U.S. military branches with a program that paid tribute to the history of the holiday and that called on them to stand and be celebrated for their service.

In addition to recounting how Veterans Day evolved from a recognition of the end of major hostilities of World War I -- on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 -- student Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts had a flag ceremony and the school's orchestra played "A Soldier's Hymn."

Afterward, Mike Corcoran, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after serving from 1968 to 1998, delivered a keynote speech.

During his 10-minute speech, Corcoran said U.S. military personnel must have integrity, strive for excellence in all they do, put service before themselves and learn the importance of teamwork and sacrifice.

He spoke to each aspect of those ideals and encouraged students to implement those same principles into their daily lives.

"Be honest, which means being honest with others and with yourself," Corcoran said. "Be dependable and keep your promises. When you say you're going to do something, you do it. Be loyal to your friends, even if you're criticized for doing so.

"Never betray your friends' trust or the trust of your family. If you do something wrong, have the courage to admit it and don't let someone else take the blame for your mistakes."

Corcoran then asked students to assess their work ethic and consider if they are doing enough to get by or working to give the best of their abilities.

"When you have a task to do, is 'just OK' good enough for you?" he said. "Or do you want to give it your very best because that is the right thing to do?"

Corcoran acknowledged the importance of service to our country and recognizing veterans. But he added that military families also are owed special thanks for the sacrifices they make.

"For most of you, I'm sure you've heard about the sacrifice of our servicemen and women, who may go overseas for a year or more and put their lives at risk for our country," he said. "They bear the sacrifice of not being with their families, missing birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and those special moments of their children's lives that can never be repeated again.

"But today, I would like to focus a little on the other side of that sacrifice, and that is the sacrifice of the military family.

"Just like the military member missing all those special events I just mentioned, the military family is missing them, too, when there is an empty seat at the table for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

"There may be a Christmas tree with presents to open or a turkey to carve at the dinner table, but the loneliness that the military family feels is just as real when they look at that empty chair."

Following the presentation, Hastings students lined both sides of the hallway and applauded veterans and their family members as they walked from the school's auditorium to the gymnasium. Some also held patriotic signs or ones giving thanks for service.

From there, Hastings eighth-graders got to spend more time with veterans during a reception that's also a longtime school tradition.

That portion of the program allows vets to have refreshments and relax while interacting with students.

Although for some, the conversations consisted largely of casual, get-to-know-you chatter, other veterans shared experiences -- everything from how food was on ships at sea and what living conditions were like in a desert.

"I enjoyed just talking to them," said Anna Stoss, a Hastings eighth-grader. "I feel like you don't often get to talk to them in public.

"Here, you actually get to talk to them and hear their stories and understand them, which is really cool."

Eighth-grader Tori Negroni said she appreciated learning about American history and veterans during the program, as well as throughout the school year in classes.

"We get to learn about a lot of things you don't think about right away when you're thinking about Veterans Day and the history of it," she said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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