Students get Veterans Day lessons on freedom

  • Written by Joe Boyle

poppy photo 11-16

Photo by Joe Boyle

A Finley Junior High School student presents a poppy to Vietnam Marine Corps veteran Harry Ehmpke, a native of Evergreen Park, during a Veterans Day ceremony held Friday at the Chicago Ridge school. Looking on is Vietnam veteran Rodger Bale.


They shared stories about their years of service. And they also joked and discussed their childhood and what they are doing now.

Veterans of former conflicts and wars were the invited guests at the Finley Junior High School Veterans Day observance that was held at the Chicago Ridge school on Friday morning. Veterans shared their stories during a breakfast held at the school before the ceremony. Listening in to the conversations were parents, students, teachers and public officials.

Harry Ehmpke, a U.S. Marine veteran and an Evergreen Park native, discussed his years of service from 1965 through 1969. This included a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1966 through 1968.

“We had to dig ditches and lay down ready to fire,” recalled Ehmpke of his stint in Vietnam. “We had things crawling on us but you didn’t bother to look. A lot of the time, we just had to wait.”

A large crowd that included students, teachers and members of the community attended the ceremony that followed the breakfast. Laura Grachan, principal at Finley Junior High School, told the audience that “once again it is popular to express patriotism for our country. Many events that have happened make us realize what we have.”

Grachan pointed out that it is through the courage of U.S. veterans that that the nation has remained free.

“We know without them, there would be no land of the free,” Grachan said. “And without the veterans fighting the war on terrorism, we would not be free.”

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar also spoke to the crowd and mentioned that he just returned from his honeymoon in Hawaii and joked that “don’t let the white hair fool you; you can fall in love at any time.”

The mayor added that while they were there, they visited Pearl Harbor and the impact of many American servicemen killed hit him.

“There is still oil leaking from the ship Arizona,” Tokar said. “Over 2,000 people were killed after the Japanese sneak attack on Dec. 7, 1941. We were then fighting in World War II. Without our veterans, we would not be free. We would not have a democracy.”

The ceremony included the call to order by Commander Rich Coluzzi, of the U.S. Army and the Glen Maker Memorial American Legion. The Richards High School JROTC took part in presenting and retiring the colors. The Richards JROTC also took part in the placing of the POW/MIA flag. The Finley Junior High School Band, directed by Brian Goodman, performed the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The Finley Junior High School Choir performed “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and the “Song for the Unsung Hero.” Eighth-grade students Sara Abdulrab, Maryam Kargar and Matt Gunderson recited their Patriot’s Pen essays on “America’s Gift to my Generation.” Lily Reinhart, a seventh-grade student, recited a Veterans Day poem.

A poppy presentation speech was given by student Rowa Alia. That was followed by Finley Junior High School students presenting poppies to veterans who attended the ceremony, including Ehmpke.

“We honor those who paid the ultimate price for freedom,” Coluzzi said. “For the men and women who serve today, they have our respect.”

Grachan added that this a valuable lesson for students to learn.

“We must tell future generations the importance of freedom,” she said.