First Posted: 11/11/2014
James May, of Newton Township, grew up in a military family and served seven years in the military in Iraq, then at Walter Reed Army Hospital and at Arlington National Cemetery, where he conducted funerals.
In his remarks on Nov. 7 to fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade Abington Heights Middle School students, May, a former Army Chaplain, told school children, “Freedom is because somebody sacrificed and it’s a wonderful blessing.”
May was guest speaker at two separate Veterans’ Day programs at the school before an auditorium filled with students, faculty and staff; parents, grandparents and other relatives of middle school students who are veterans or are currently serving in the military.
“It’s something I think most kids today who grew up in America don’t really understand what it means to live in a country that’s free,” said May in an interview following the first program.
Peter Misura, Joe Zavacky and Marvin G. Benson, chaplain, all representatives of the VFW Post 4712 from Simpson, were a few of the veterans recognized. They also provided their sentiments regarding Veterans’ Day.
Misura served in the Korean War with his twin brother, Paul. “They tried to separate us,” said Misura. “They were shipping me out before him. I went to heavy equipment school and he went to engineer combat basic training. He received a purple heart and I was his platoon sergeant.” They were discharged together.
Zavacky said he was a messenger in the U.S. Infantry and a liberator of Dachau, known as the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany for political prisoners during World War II.
“I worked the front lines and conveyed the messages. A friend of mine was with us. We liberated that camp on April 29, 1945,” explained Zavacky. “The war was over not too long after. When we liberated that camp, there were 30 railroad cars with bodies coming in and this is the only guy we found alive (pointing to a photograph). People don’t realize it until they go through it. You hear stories from some of them…some of the patients that were prisoners of war. Freedom is not free.”
Benson’s message to children is, “Every time you look at that flag that flies free every day, remember those stars are the old veterans that are not here today. The white stripes – those are the oceans we cross to preserve freedom for somebody else. And the red stripes, that’s the blood that these gentlemen have spilt on any foreign land…And at any given time we’re ready to go and help out another individual country to give them freedom, too.”
Benson, a Vietnam veteran, also encourages young people “to thank their teachers, too, for teaching you to be good human beings and good citizens. And once in a while if you see a veteran going by, stop and shake his hand and thank him for what he’s done and what he has given you. God Bless America.”
Abington Heights 2009 graduate and San Diego Padres baseball player, Cory Spangenberg, also stopped by during the ceremony to speak to students about Veterans’ Day. Spangenberg grew up in Clarks Summit and is back home in the Abingtons during the off season.
“I had Mr. (Geary) Rupp in the middle school and we actually ran into each other at a breast cancer awareness night and caught up,” he said. “I guess he thought it was a good idea for me to come here and I was honored by that. I think we take what they (Veterans) do for granted. We were given the freedom because of them and I wouldn’t be able to follow my dream if it wasn’t for them, so I owe everything to them.”
Rupp, a retired Abington Heights Middle School technologies’ teacher, started the Veterans’ Day program seven years ago with the help of former middle school principal, Ed Kairis, and was also one of the organizers.
Members of the eighth grade band entertained the crowds with The Marines Hymn, Anchors Aweigh, U.S. Air Force, Semper Paratus and Caisson Song.