Warren County students honor veterans

Gavin Paeprucha, 12, waves his flag during the Veterans Day program Tuesday at Warren County Middle School in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Students at Warren County Middle School honored veterans close to them a day early at their Veterans Day program on Tuesday morning.

This is the third year that event coordinator and math teacher Allyson Snapp has helped the school reach out to local veterans for the program. She said the ceremony is held a day early so that students and faculty can take part in events held in Front Royal Wednesday, which is Veterans Day.

The ceremony honored teachers, teacher relatives and student relatives with personal recognition and patriotic musical performances by the Randolph-Macon Academy chorus and the middle school’s band. This was the first year the band contributed to the program, playing a combination of “Taps” and “America the Beautiful” titled “Legacy of Heroes” that principal Robert Johnston said they had been rehearsing since the beginning of the year.

In his opening remarks, Johnston gave a brief history of the start of Veterans Day and explained the significance of the 600 honorary white flags decorating the front lawn of the school, each representing 75,000 veterans.

“They have fought in the world’s most difficult terrains, in the hardest weather conditions and the most difficult enemies,” he said. “The challenges they have faced are numerous, the courage they have showed in doing so in many respects is mind-boggling.”

Kaitlyn Alicie, 11, center, joins her grandfather Sonny Alicie and father Jason Alicie during the Pledge of Allegiance to open the Veterans Day Program at Warren County Middle School. Both men are U.S. Army veterans. Rich Cooley/Daily

Snapp had reached out to 92-year-old Front Royal veteran Jack Rickel to be the keynote speaker for this year’s program after learning about his award ceremony in Winchester on July 8. There, he received a series of medals and badges for his service in World War II that were more than 70 years overdue.

“He had waited 70 years before he got his Purple Heart and all the medals that he had deserved, and I wanted him to tell the story and just for the kids to hear his story,” Snapp said after the program. “He had told me that he had a guardian angel with him many times because he had so many close calls. His life was just so wonderful to hear and I just wanted him to share it.”

Rickel thanked the school for having him and recounted a few thrilling tales from his service in Europe for the students after they welcomed him with a standing ovation.

“You really become family with the people you fight with,” he said during his speech. “You care very much about them and their welfare and they care very much about you and your welfare, so we tend to do things like that for each other. Really, its not bravery, it’s just that you care about them and you want to protect them.”

Afterward, Johnston presented him with an honorary plaque from the school and those assembled gave him another standing ovation. This was the first Veterans Day program Johnston had seen after starting at the school this year.

Elvis Tweedie, 12, escorts his uncle, former U.S. Army SSG Bunky Woods, inside the Warren County Middle School gymnasium during the Veterans Day program Tuesday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

“As a new principal, coming into this and not knowing what to expect, I can say from my perspective it was amazing,” he said. “When the veterans were first walking into the gymnasium and the kids were perfectly silent I was in awe. It was amazing how respectful they were…it just really struck me that they have a lot of respect for that situation.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

U.S. Army veteran Jack Rickel, of Front Royal, speaks to Warren County Middle School students about his WWII experiences during the schools Veterans Day program on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Thomas Silvus, 12, a student at Warren County Middle School, plays the clarinet during a band performance at the school's Veterans Day program on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily