EXETER — Shawn Stanford stood proudly in his Army Service uniform with a big smile on his face, as he enjoyed the annual Wyoming Area Veterans Day Program.
The Army and Marine veteran said he was appreciative of the students and sees veterans as “regular people.”
“I appreciate these (veterans) and the students having the opportunity to see that veterans are anybody,” Stanford said. “We’re just like anybody on the street.”
This year marked the fourth year Stanford attended the program, and he said it’s something he enjoys every year.
“I enjoy it every year,” he said. “The best year was probably the year I spoke, but that’s just me.”
The annual Wyoming Area Veterans Day Program welcomed over 130 men and women military veterans from around the Greater Pittston area.
They were treated to a special luncheon that included turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing and pie.
Signs were displayed in the cafeteria and hallways, made by elementary and high school students.
The event is put on by the school’s History Club, and its moderator, Maureen Pikas, said the event gets bigger and better every year.
“I think it’s more word of mouth,” she said. “I think a lot of veterans spread the word about what a great program we have, and we always get more and more.”
Over 50 students in the History Club helped serve the veterans, including club president Tommy Walkowiak, 17, who said club members started preparations weeks in advance hanging up signs, painting windows, and compiling a slideshow of the veterans in attendance.
The senior student has helped with the program every year since he was in ninth grade and enjoys showing his appreciation to the veterans.
“Every single year, I look forward to watching the expressions on veterans’ faces as they’re watching the slideshow,” he said. “It’s such a sentimental moment and you can tell that they’re grateful to be here.”
After remarks by State Sen. John Yudichak and State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, the high school chorus and veterans sang along together to songs such as “My Country Tis of Thee,” “America the Beautiful,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America.”
Then, the veterans made their way to the gymnasium, where they were greeted to a standing ovation by the school students.
Pikas believes the standing ovation is what the veterans enjoy the most.
“I think when they enter and they see the kids, I think that is the best part for them,” she said. “They really enjoy seeing all of the kids and how they react.”
Opening remarks were delivered by Secondary Center Principal Dr. Jon Pollard who, before the event, talked about how excited he was to finally be part of it.
“It’s an outstanding program,” he said. “This is the first year I’ve had the opportunity to attend it. It’s a great honor to have the men and women who have served our country into this community house to celebrate, and memorialize their sacrifices.”
Afterwards senior student Shane Sonday was introduced by Pikas. Sonday will join the Marine Corps in August, and was sworn in the Corps in front of his fellow students.
Special guest speaker was the Hon. Thomas J. Munley, judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Lackawanna County, a veteran who served served in the Vietnam War with the Army as an Infantry Solider.
Munley’s accolades include the Bronze Star, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Chapel of the Four Chaplains Award.
Munley spoke about his time in Vietnam and told the veterans they were his heroes and told the students all a veteran wants is to be told “Thank you.”
“You know what a veteran wants, students? They want you to say ‘Thanks for your service.’ That’s all they want,” he said. You students are so awesome just to stand up the way you did when all of the veterans walked in — you made me so proud. So, I am proud to be part of this… and I want to tell all of you that if I don’t see you again, I won’t forget you and Wyoming Area has a special place in my heart.”
Munley’s speech was followed by a video of elementary students answering questions about the veterans in their families, their favorite thing about America, and what one word they would use to describe veterans.
The interviews concluded the program, and the veterans exited the gymnasium the same way they entered — to a standing ovation.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher