Each year, students at Christ the King School in Snyder have the opportunity to pray for and recognize those who have faithfully served their country. On Monday, Nov. 10, the eve of Veterans Day, students spoke with military heroes in the community who have done so, in addition to the support the school regularly offers the nation's veterans via organized prayer.
On that day, the school will invite veterans from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, many of whom the students know in their everyday lives, to attend a prayer service at 8:45 a.m. It will include readings, poetry about veterans and an Armed Forces salute, during which the hymns of each of the military branches, including the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, will be played.
"Those that were in the Air Force, when they hear the Air Force hymn, they stand up. When they hear the Marines hymn, they stand up, et cetera," said principal Samuel Zalacca. "After the prayer service, the veterans are invited into the school, into the classrooms, for a reception in each classroom, and they'll talk a little about what it means to serve."
During the Veterans Day celebration, the school will also emphasize the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Veterans Day, held each year on Nov. 11, honors all living people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and coincides with the signing of the armistice that ended the hostilities between the Allied forces and Germany during World War I, on Nov. 11, 1918. Memorial Day, held every year on the last Monday of May, honors those who have given their lives in service.
According to Zalacca, Christ the King School actively honors those who are currently in the military, as well as those who have served in the past, at various points throughout the year. The students use a short prayer, called 'A Prayer for our Troops,' which some of the classes recite every day after the general morning prayer in their homeroom, during which students pray for the men and women in the troops.
"That's really our main focus in saluting the veterans, and throughout the year, we do have some of our grades make cards for veterans, and send them to various veteran organizations," he said. "Last year, we were collecting toiletries for the troops (overseas), and we sent them over."
Zalacca said all the branches of the U.S. military have been represented at the school. Most visitors have served in the Army and the Marines, with the fewest, generally, having served in the Coast Guard. They included both men and women, which Zalacca said tends to be eye opening for students who typically think of men as veterans of the military, while there are also many female veterans as well.
For many Americans, the significance of these individuals' service to their country cannot be overstated, and this is what Christ the King School hopes to communicate to students. "I believe it's the service, the service that these people are willing to put their life in harm's way to provide a better place for all of us to live. We have some of the World War II veterans who didn't necessarily enlist, but were drafted. Nonetheless, they were drafted and they had a responsibility, and they completed that responsibility."
When asked about the biggest obstacle for veterans in today's society, Zalacca said it is often difficult for many veterans to return and readjust to civilian life after they come back from serving overseas. Many veterans have difficulty finding employment and sufficient health care, he said, but veterans today are often able to receive more support and recognition than they could get in previous decades.
"We're recognizing the veterans more for what they have done," Zalacca said. "I was a teenager during the Vietnam War, and during that time, there was a different way of enlisting. It was by lottery numbers - mine did not come up, but I lived through that time, and there wasn't that celebration or that 'thank you' when these men and women were coming home from the Vietnam conflict."
By continuing to pray for all veterans, Christ the King School is also hoping to instill the value of prayer in its students, and fulfill its mission as a Catholic school of the diocese. The goal is to pray for not only for the veterans, but also those who are leading the country. "We put prayer first in everything, so as a Catholic school, it's the prayer, and then it's the recognition of these men and women," said Zalacca.