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CAHS Patriots, Geibel and Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus host Veterans Day programs

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 9:55 p.m.
Mark Hofmann | Daily Courier Gary Snyder of Bear Rocks and with the maintenance department at Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School spoke of his experience in Vietnam during the annual prayer service to honor the nation's veterans. 11/12/12
Mark Hofmann | Daily Courier Members of the Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School sing 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'. 11/12/12
Mark Hofmann | Daily Courier Seventh-grade volunteers handed out poppy seeds to the crowd during the annual prayer service to honor veterans at Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School. 11/12/12
Mark Hofmann | Daily Courier John Kenes of Uniontown has his meal served by Elizabeth Becker, a member of the CAHS Patriots at the annual Veterans Day Program at the Connellsville Readiness Center. 11/12/12
Mark Hofmann | Daily Courier Florence 'Shutsy' Reynolds, one of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) that served in World War II, was the keynote speaker at the CAHS Patriots annual Veterans Day Program. 11/12/12
Mark Hofmann | Daily Courier The Fay-West Brass Quintet (left) and The Sixteen Notes (right) performed various patriotic songs during the annual Veterans Day Program by the CAHS Patriots. 11/12/12
Captain Kevin Zaffino (left), of Erie and a selection officer for Western Pennsylvania, United States Marine Cpl. Brandon Rumbaugh (center) and Rumbaugh's girlfriend Charline Foster (right) move back to their seats during a retirement ceremony held at Penn State Fayette the Eberly Campus on Monday, November 12, 2012. Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier

Local schools observed Veterans Day on Monday hosting special services and speakers.

Students from Geibel Catholic, Connellsville Area and Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus all listened as area veterans told their stories.

The CAHS Patriots, an organization of student and adult volunteers, sponsored its annual Veterans Day program, held at the Connellsville Readiness Center in Connellsville Township.

The CAHS Patriots have sent 7,676 packages to military personnel serving overseas.

On Monday, the group honored local veterans with a free lunch and program.

During that program Florence Shutsy-Reynolds, who joined the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in 1943 and stayed with the civilian support corps until it was disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944, gave a challenge to all non-veterans.

She directed non-veterans to go out and meet veterans and learn and preserve their stories. For the veterans, she asked for them to tell their stories and get their stories on record.

“I suggest you stop and talk to them,” she said. “They'll be more than willing to talk to you.”

Until 1977, the WASP had no military status and the veterans lived under a gag order, unable to talk about their service or receive military benefits. A series of congressional hearings changed that, and the women pilots, now all in their 80s, have formed a cohesive veterans' group.

“I was fortunate to enroll in that experiment at the time,” Reynolds said, adding that what she and the other 1,100 women went through helped open the door for women in today's military. “We proved we could do what the men could do.”

Today, Reynolds said there are fewer than 200 WASP veterans living, meaning more and more of the stories of those veterans are slipping away.

At Geibel's program, Gary Snyder, in Geibel's maintenance department and a Vietnam veteran, discussed his service years.

“It was the longest 14 months of my life, but I wouldn't change it for the world,” Snyder said. “I served and I served proudly.”

The Bear Rocks resident entered the military with the U.S. Army in 1968 where he specialized in communications.

While in Vietnam, Snyder said he saw the conditions of life that communism had produced for the Vietnamese people. He knew then what he was fighting for.

“If we were to lose our freedoms, it's lost forever,” Snyder said.

Toni Henderson, a Geibel instructor, and a major in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, had seventh-grade students pass out seeds for poppy flowers. Poppy flowers are a symbol of Veterans Day and Memorial Day because of the blood shed on those flowers during combat.

Speaking on the windy campus of Penn State Fayette during the annual Veterans Day Program sponsored by Penn State Fayette's Student Veterans Association, Sgt. John Behlke of Uniontown, who served with the U.S. Army Reserve, said on Veterans Day we are to celebrate our freedoms. He shared a first-hand story of what veterans endure when they choose to fight to preserve those freedoms.

Behlke served in Iraq in 2005.

“We sacrifice so much so we can be free today,” said Behlke, who instructed those attending to speak to a veteran whenever they get a chance and take time to thank a veteran for their service, a lesson that came from those returning from Vietnam.

“They (the Vietnam veterans) were our greatest teachers,” Behlke said. “Because of them, we learned today how to treat our veterans.”

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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