Answer Man: Veterans Day off isn't a tall tale

News-DemocratDecember 25, 2013 

Q. A friend of mine from Jefferson County, Missouri, told me they had school on Veterans Day. Could this be true? I'm betting a beer he's wrong. -- Bob Colston, of Caseyville

A. Looks like you'd better belly up to the bar and buy your buddy a brewski. And while you're at it, maybe you should pick up a few six-packs to thank the fine folks in the Jefferson R-VII School District for knowing how to observe an important holiday.

OK, I probably would have sung a different tune when I was going to school and looking forward to an extra day of play. But the older I've gotten, the more I've wondered how having a day to sleep late, shop or throw around a football does anything to honor or even make us remember Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King or the millions of veterans who have protected this country's freedom.

It is apparently with this thought in mind that years ago the R-VII district decided to roll out the red-white-and-blue carpet every Nov. 11 to salute those who have given so much to guard this nation. Yes, students spend roughly half of the day in class, but the rest is devoted to a star-spangled assembly during which they get to meet and greet hundreds of area vets.

"It is a huge tradition in our schools," said Clint Johnston, who has been superintendent of the Festus-based district for four years. "We would have an absolute revolution if we tried to discontinue it. Our Grandparents Day is a big day, but from a standpoint of our school climate and culture, this is the day of days for our school district."

It is sponsored by the district's gifted students, who invite area veterans to send in pictures of themselves in uniform and to attend the approximately 90-minute program filled with every ruffle and flourish they can think of. A choir of elementary school students sing patriotic hymns. The band plays the anthems of the five armed services. Pictures of the veterans are flashed on a screen.

"This year, they played (Jay Dawson's) 'Gettysburg: The Third Day,'" Johnston said. "I don't know if you know that piece of music, but it's extremely intense. We put bass drums throughout the gymnasium that people didn't know about. They actually sounded like the war with the cannons going off and you could hear the drums beating as they crescendoed through the music. Literally the hair on the back of your neck stood up as you listened."

The program ended with poetry readings and the playing of taps. Then for nearly a half-hour, students have a chance to shake hands and talk with "true heroes."

"I tell our students in my introductory comments that every person sitting in the room is a hero," Johnston said. "We live in a world where everyone thinks about the St. Louis Cardinals or the St. Louis Blues and the University of Missouri, but when you get right down to it, those aren't what you would call heroes. Heroes are the people around the world who will be spending (Christmas) away from their families protecting you and me and our liberties."

The annual observance has grown so large that the district has to hold two programs for its four schools, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. About 1,000 pack the Danby-Rush Tower Middle School gym for each program, including a total of 1,100 students and 250-300 veterans.

"There'll never be a time we won't have this, and I say that with absolute certainty," said Johnston, a self-described "military brat." "One of my grandfathers was in World War II, the other did Korea and my dad did Vietnam. I can tell you that all three of them would roll over in their graves if we ever came to a point where I would say we weren't doing this. That's not going to happen."

I'll be sending a copy of the latest Blue Jay Nation showing youngsters saluting the vets as they sing one of their patriotic songs in a picture that may melt your heart.

Q. With all the problems people have had trying to sign up for the Affordable Care Act -- not to mention all those who do not have a computer -- why can't people just pick up an application (maybe at the post office) and do it through the mail? -- Sharron Lindsey, of Belleville

A. At first thought, it sounds like President Obama should have hired you instead of those inept computer programmers and saved a ton of money.

Unfortunately, sometimes life just can't be easy. You have to remember when you apply, you have to choose from among sometimes dozens of different bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans. So to do it through the mail, applicants would have to be furnished information on all of those plans, which differ by state and region. The result would be a printing nightmare for the government, making your simple plan sadly unworkable.

Today's trivia

For what sometimes nasty bug do we remember German pediatrician Theodor Escherich?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: In 1882 French dramatist Victorien Sardou wrote "Fedora" for acclaimed stage and screen actress Sarah Bernhardt. Known for her cross-dressing roles (protests of which once forced cancellation of an appearance in Los Angeles), Bernhardt came on stage wearing a soft-brimmed hat that was creased in the middle. It soon became the fashion rage as its name became forever linked with Bernhardt's role as Princess Fedora.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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