HAYFIELD — Members of the American Legion Post 330 marched into the Hayfield High School gymnasium Thursday morning. As the color guard installed the American flag, the students and faculty saluted alongside their veterans as taps played.
For more than two decades, Hayfield Community Schools have honored veterans with decorated hallways and presented cards handmade by students saying thank you. During Thursday morning's program, the students listened to stories from veterans and learned what Veterans Day was really about.
"It's a wonderful feeling," said David Haukom, Post 330 commander. "It is so much fun to put this on for the students."
Hayfield High School teacher Vince Reynolds, also a gunnery sergeant of the U.S. Marine Corps, spoke in front of students about the true meaning of Veterans Day. It wasn't about getting the day off from school, rather a time to remember the ultimate sacrifices made by military service members to protect the country's freedom. Also, to respect those who made the decision to risk their lives to save others.
"I don't wear this uniform to kill people," Reynolds said of his dress blues. "I wear this to defend my country. So, this weekend, I want you to talk to anyone in your family who has served and tell them 'thank you' for making the sacrifices that they did."
During the program, the elementary school students performed a rendition of 'My Name is America,' a song written by local composer Kurt Orning, a Hayfield alumnus and a member of the Sons of the Legion.
Liz Fjerstad, the Hayfield Elementary music teacher, had taught her students since the end of September the lyrics and practiced the music with them in order to perform it for the Veterans Day program.
"The students were shaking with pride about getting to perform this for the veterans," she said. "Having Kurt come in to talk about the song and patriotism was great. Having the students hear it from the composer is very important."
'My Name is America'
Orning was inspired to write his song during the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. As he was playing golf that morning, he and his friends heard the news of the Twin Towers crashing to the ground in a series of hijacked planes conducted by terrorists.
The song he wrote was written from the perspective of the Statue of Liberty, which was standing in the harbor during that day that changed everyone's lives.
"My friend looked at me, and said that the world will 'never be the same again,'" he said. "As I was walking, I was thinking what would Lady Liberty say to the world? Then the phrase 'my name is America' came into mind."
After recording the song in Nashville, he received praise from those who have used the patriotic song at the American Legions and other events. The song that was uploaded to YouTube received more than 1.6 million views.
Having a father who was a World War II veteran, Orning was inspired to write a song to inspire others about patriotism, and also to unify the country during uncertain times.
"It's important that we as citizens remember our veterans," he said. "Don't forget what they did. If that's what comes from this song, then I'm thrilled. I hope we will always remember."
Before they headed off to class, students would line up to shake hands with members of Post 330. They looked into each others' eyes and the students thanked them for their service.
"We didn't teach them that," said Assistant Principal John Howe. "The students expect to do this and they always look forward to this day. We don't force kids to shake the veterans' hands, but they look them in the eye and say thank you. Our students have an amazing respect for our veterans."
Frank Moon, a Korean War veteran and a former Hayfield Community Schools agriculture teacher, was touched by the song and appreciated the small gestures of respect by the audience members during the program.
"It was amazing and terrific," he said. "We would sing that song in the Legion chorus. It's just fun to hear it. The audience was respectful and listened. They're great kids."
Steve Boysen, a Vietnam War-era Navy veteran, also expressed his sentiments.
"It's really neat and they made our day," he said with a bright smile. "I've been here for a lot of years and I wouldn't miss this day. The kids were so sincere."