BELLEVILLE — Wrapped in an afghan to ward off a brisk breeze, 91-year-old Chester Jankowski of Swansea took in the sights and sounds of the Belleville West versus Belleville East football game Saturday afternoon.
Jankowski, who served six years in the Navy, is a Pearl Harbor survivor.
He along with fellow veterans and active duty military members were recognized for their service to the country before the game. They sat in a special area arranged in the end zone at Belleville West.
This marked the second annual Belleville School District 201 military appreciation day. "We think it's really important to use extracurriculars as an extension of the classroom," Superintendent Jeff Dosier said. "The kids learn a lot from just listening to the veterans."
At the onset of the recognition ceremony, a moment of silence was held for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Col. Mark McCloud, commander of the 375th Mission Support Group at Scott Air Force Base, took part in a ceremonial coin toss, which gave West control of the ball. West went on to defeat East, 42-14.
The color guard from the U.S. Transportation Command Joint Service presented the colors, and "God Bless America" was performed by the joint choirs from East and West high schools as a oversized flag was unfolded in the bleachers.
"It's a great event," McCloud said. "We have such a wonderful relationship with the communities surrounding Scott Air Force Base."
McCloud accepted an oversized check on behalf of veterans organizations. Dosier said approximately $7,000 was raised by the students at Belleville East and West high schools. The money will go to the Wounded Warrior Project, Segs 4 Vets and other veterans organization.
Following the ceremony, players from both West and East shook the hands of veterans and military members in attendance. As a surprise to the service members, three planes from Scott Air Force conducted a ceremonial flyover, which garnered applause from the crowd.
Despite having a recent surgery, Korean War veteran Charles Getterman, 88, who lives between Belleville and Smithton, came out to take part in the ceremony. He served in the U.S. Army's 45th Infantry Division in Korea in 1953. He said 200 "guys" served in the division with him. "Everyone was wounded, but no one was killed," Getterman said.
Iraq War veteran and West alumni Keith Meyers, 29, of Millstadt said he enjoyed the ceremony. "It's good to see they are giving the students a chance to appreciate the military," he said.
Meyers, who is active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, served 10 years total in the U.S. Army including two and a half years in the National Guard, five years on active duty and three years in the Reserves. He served two tours in Iraq: one in 2005 and another from 2007 to 2008. Meyers now works as a truck driver.
Jankowski recalled earning just $21 a month during his time in the service. Jankowski was on the U.S.S. Oklahoma when it was bombed by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. The ship capsized during the attack and 429 men were killed. He went on to serve on ships supporting the invasions of North Africa and then Guam and Okinawa during World War II.
After getting out of the Navy, Jankowski went to work for Monsanto where he retired from after 30 years.
His advice for young people -- don't take things for granted. "These kids got it easy," he said. "It's more fun and easy now."
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.