GETTYSBURG, Pa. –
As the nation recognized its deceased veterans on Memorial Day, the up-and-coming generation showed Gettysburg the future is bright.
Three sixth grade students from Maple Avenue Middle School in Littlestown shared their winning essays on what Memorial Day means to them at the 151st Gettysburg Memorial Day Observance at the Soldiers' National Cemetery. Amanda Beigel said Memorial Day "gives us a chance to thank every one of those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice." They may not have superpowers, but they are heroes, she said. "These people gave us the America we know today," Beigel said. She encouraged others to keep the memories of veterans alive for future generations.
Elizabeth Hanna shared similar sentiments. To her, Memorial Day means remembrance and peace, but the day also brings sorrow as Americans remember the soldiers who didn't come home. "Memorial Day is more than engraved headstones and an American flag," Hanna said.
In her essay, Katie Lookingbill asked herself why people enlist in the military. For some, it's a family tradition, and for others it's about survival, she said. Lookingbill said those who enlist make the ultimate sacrifice, and without them, citizens wouldn't have the freedoms and privileges they do. "This day is what makes us all united," Lookingbill said.
Brig. Gen. John S. Laskodi, who gave the Memorial Day address, was so moved by their words he interrupted the program to bestow an unexpected honor upon the students. Laskodi called the girls to the front of the rostrum and commended them for being brave enough to deliver their speeches in front of a large crowd. "I'm always heartened when I see the next generation," Laskodi said. He awarded each girl one of his personal military coins, which caused the crowd to erupt with applause.
"I didn't expect to get it," Lookingbill said. "It's a big honor," Beigel said. Sixth grade students at Maple Avenue competed in an essay competition for the chance to speak at the ceremony, according to Beigel. "You don't get to do stuff like this very often," Hanna said.
In his remarks, Laskodi remembered the comrades he lost during his years of service in the U.S. Army. The New Jersey native's extensive list of military accomplishments includes serving command assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Kuwait. He is currently the commanding general of Defense Logistics Agency Distribution, the global distribution service provider for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. "Memorial Day is a tribute to the troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice," Laskodi said. Living in these tumultuous times, Laskodi said it is important for the country to remain militarily strong "to avoid miscalculation," mentioning tension with Russia.
Whether Americans gather on Memorial Day to remember those who fought in Gettysburg during the Civil War, or to remember the recent deaths of those who served in the Middle East, Laskodi said citizens must not forget their sacrifice. "Our freedom has been paid for with the blood of patriots," Laskodi said. He encouraged people to go home and enjoy their backyard grilling during the long weekend, but also to take time to reflect on the true meaning of the day.
Gettysburg National Military Park Acting Superintendent Chris Stein recounted the history of national parks and reminded visitors of the soldiers who died in the battle in Gettysburg.
Also in the spotlight Monday were Gettysburg Area School District (GASD) youth. Elementary students spread flowers on soldiers' graves, the high school ROTC cadets presented the colors, along with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the high school band played patriotic music.
Lending their vocal talents to the program were GASD Choral Director Jamie Bowman, baritone Wayne Hill, and the Gettysburg Civic Chorus. Ivan Frantz Jr. played taps. State Rep. Dan Moul (R-91) served as emcee and the Adams County Veterans Council Honor Guard offered a 21-gun salute. Rev. Dale E. Williams, U.S. Navy retired, gave the opening and closing prayers.