COAL TOWNSHIP — On Friday morning Shamokin Area Middle-High School was the setting for a special Veterans Day assembly program, which honored local heroes for their military service.

Veteran and guest speaker Terry Ketchem, chief warrant officer 3, Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, was joined on stage by a group of five other local veterans: Dane Bamford, Army specialist, infantry, Iraq; Jarrod Scandle, Marines, Afghanistan; Paul Loswiewicz, Army, specialist 4, combat infantrymen, Vietnam; Nate Rhodes, Marines, Afghanistan; and Blaine Hartman (Ketchem’s grandfather), Air Force, Korean War.

Attended by an audience of more than 1,200 students, the program featured a number of patriotic songs, performed by the Shamokin Area High School Band, which included the national anthem, “God Bless America,” and an individual medley of each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Principal Todd Hockenbroch opened the program by addressing the student body, telling them about our nation’s veterans and why they deserve to be respected and honored.

“We’re here today because of the sacrifices made by our nation’s veterans who serve to protect our freedom,” said Hockenbroch.

He then turned his attention to the veterans on stage.

“We, at Shamokin Area, would like to once again thank all of you for your military service to our country and for protecting our freedoms,” stated Hockenbroch.

“We realize today, perhaps more than ever before, how very much we are indebted to those who have sacrificed their time, and in some cases, even given their lives to protect the freedom that we continue to enjoy today here in the United States. On this Veterans Day, we would like to say thank you,” he added.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence was observed along with the playing of taps to reflect upon those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Hockenbroch also asked those students with family members, who are veterans either serving or have served, to stand up and be recognized.

Special guest speaker

Chief Warrant Officer 3, Terry Ketchem, who is also employed as a coporal with the Coal Township Police Department, is currently assigned to the headquarters battery, 1st Battalion 109th Field Artillery in Wilkes-Barre.

In 2005, Ketchem was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was stationed on the outskirts of Baghdad, where he served in support of the military campaign. During his deployment in Iraq, Ketchem was promoted to the rank of sergeant and served as a team leader for a personal security detail for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Upon returning home, Ketchem completed the Primary Leadership and Development course at Fort Indiantown Gap and in 2006 was promoted to staff sergeant. During the 2012 presidential inauguration, he served as part of a security detail in Washington, D.C. and in 2016 was promoted again, this time to chief warrant officer 3.

In addition to his Iraq deployment, Ketchem has also been called to active duty for local and state emergencies in Pennsylvania.

“What I think is most important to talk to you about today is the situation that you are all in right now. You are all at or rapidly approaching a point in your lives where you will have to make important decisions that will impact your future,” said Ketchem.

Challenging the student body to value what our nation’s veterans give us, Ketchem continued, “There are so many doors open for you to walk through and so many decisions for you to make. Why am I telling you all of this? Because I want you to know that the freedoms you have today, which are often taken for granted, didn’t come without a fight.”

“The men sitting on stage here with me today, along with all active duty service members around the world, hold the doors of your future open to you at any cost. They do so willingly and often without regard for their own safety. They do it because they care for this great country,” he remarked.

Ketchem also acknowledged the families and loved ones of our nation’s veterans.

“When a service member leaves for active duty, they often leave behind a great deal. In a way, family members endure the same pain and hardships that service members deal with. They, too, are devoted to this country and for that I say thank you,” he added.

Student essay winners

Three Shamokin Area freshman, who were winners of a Veterans Day essay contest — Cynthia Zheng, Savannah Ducharme and Kayla Harvey — also addressed the student body regarding our veterans.

Zheng spoke first of “Veterans Hardships.”

“Veterans around the world go through mental and physical pain. When a veteran comes home, it’s not always warm hugs and kisses. Some veterans are too crippled to do anything else or are treated badly. People don’t understand the hardships they face,” she said.

Ducharme, in her speech, addressed what it means to be a veteran.

“...many veterans watch their friends and companions die a brutal and painful death for our country. In the American civil war, over 620,000 U.S. veterans lost their lives. Imagine how the surviving veterans must have felt losing their friends in combat, who are like family,” she stated.

Harvey’s speech discussed what we can do for our veterans.

“The least we can do for our veterans is to celebrate this national holiday every November by letting them know how much they are truly appreciated,” she remarked.

“Recognizing the sacrifice that veterans do for the U.S can also inspire citizens to cherish the place we call home,” said Harvey.

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