Students at Clairview School in Hempfield carry on tradition of honoring veterans
Don Kattic beamed from his seat in the audience Tuesday as he watched a trio of high school students at the Clairview School solemnly fold an American flag during a ceremony honoring local veterans.
Outfitted in Marine Corps dress blues, the 84-year-old Korean War veteran and past commander of the Irwin VFW was proud to see that a Veterans Day tradition the school for special needs students has celebrated for a decade continues to draw support.
“I used to play taps and teach them how to fold the flag,” Kattic said.
He is glad others are helping assume those duties.
Students are eager to learn and participate in the community event that has become an annual ritual at the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's Donohoe Road school in Hempfield that enrolls 101 students in grades K-12, Principal Colleen Suchko said.
In an era when many schools are being accused of short-changing civics, the school for exceptional students may be an exception to the rule.
The fruits of Clairview's civic engagement and the students' efforts to honor those lessons were on display. Scores of red and blue stars, each bearing the name of a student and his or her military veteran hero, encircled the gymnasium. In a hallway outside the gym, a floor-to-ceiling bulletin board displays photos students brought in of family members — mothers, fathers, grandparents and others — who have served in the military.
Sandy Furlo, a student personal care assistant at Clairview, said she's always anxious to see new students participate in the Veterans Day program. It includes a student honor guard set to a solemn drum cadence, patriotic songs, a flag folding ceremony and the playing of taps, as well as a reception for family members and veterans.
“Even though they're special needs students, they get it,” Furlo said .
State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, a Marine Corps vet, served as keynote speaker for the event. Like Kattic, Nelson wore his dress blues.
Shortly before the program, Nelson approached Sam Morgan, a 16-year-old Clairview junior, and handed him a small American flag to hold during the ceremony.
“Don't let anyone else touch it. Don't let it touch the floor and, if anyone asks you, just tell them it's for something special,” Nelson told him.
Morgan, outfitted in a white shirt and tie and a dark suit with a red, white and blue lapel ribbon, listened intently, eyes glued to the speaker's podium, as Nelson addressed the group and lauded students for their efforts to honor those who have stood and served America.
“In the last 100 years and the next 100 years, there will always be a wolf in the woods. ... But we will always have men and women who are proud to serve,” Nelson said.
Moments later, as Nelson explained how America has come to depend on a force that evens out to about six service members per 1,000 people, Morgan stood, proudly displaying the flag Nelson had given him.
Morgan, Nelson told the group, was representative of the single American service member standing to protect about twice as many students as Clairview enrolls.
“That means a lot,” Morgan later said, softly.