WELLSBURG - A school assembly recognizing area veterans and their families for their sacrifices and a panel discussion involving four local veterans were among activities held at Brooke High School in observance of Veterans Day.
Following the assembly, students in Greg Rothwell's 20th Century history and advanced placement U.S. and European history classes gathered in the school's lecture room to hear the experiences of World War II veteran and former prisoner of war John Chernenko of Wellsburg, Air Force veteran Gene Camilletti of Wellsburg, who served during the Korean War; and Vietnam War veterans Charles Beall and state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg.
The four were invited to participate in the Take a Veteran to School program sponsored nationally by the History Channel and in West Virginia by members of the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, including local sponsor Comcast.
SERVICE APPRECIATED — Many area military veterans of various eras were called by Brooke High School Principal Toni Shute to stand and be recognized for their service during a Veterans Day assembly Friday at the school.
SHARING EXPERIENCES — State Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke, holds up the Soldier’s Handbook he was issued while serving the Army in the 1960s during a panel discussion Friday for Brooke High School students arranged by Comcast, the West Virginia and the West Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association as part of the History Channel’s Take a Vet to School Day program. To his right are, from left: fellow veterans Charles Beall, John Chernenko and Gene Camilletti and Frank Polito, regional director for government and community affairs for Comcast.
Frank Polito, regional director for government and community affairs for Comcast, said said more than 10,000 schools throughout the U.S. have participated in the program since it began in 2008. Weir High School also was among West Virginia schools that participated this year.
Chernenko related how he was struck by shrapnel from a grenade at the Battle of Mortain in France, transported to a hospital in England for treatment and returned to the frontline with a bandage on his head. Later he was captured with many other troops fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.
He said he underwent a lengthy interrogation by his Nazi captors because his name is Russion and "they hated the Russians" and because he had traded his damaged boots for those worn by a dead German soldier.
Chernenko said he and about 60 others were transported in a train boxcar that was fired upon by Allied planes because it wasn't marked as carrying POWs. While at the camp, the prisoners were fed bread made with rye, beets and sawdust, small, dirty and rotting potatoes and soup that might contain half a potato or the eye or hair of a horse.
Eventually he and the others were freed by Allied troops that included people of various nationalities. As he returned to the U.S., he was concerned about "how people would treat me when I came home. Am I going to be a hero or am I going to be (seen as) a traitor because I was captured and a prisoner?" he recalled.
Camilletti said while he served during the Korean War, he wasn't deployed abroad. Instead he served at a military hospital that treated soldiers that had been burned by flamethrowers, bombs and other weapons used in the war.
"I don't even want to describe what they looked like," he said. But he was among staff who volunteered to take the burn victims outside for fresh air, and "It was a pleasure to do that, it really was."
Bell said while serving the Navy during the Vietnam War, he learned the importance of attention to detail. He said while the Air Force was practicing bombing maneuvers on volcanic islands near Hawaii in preparation for deployment, a young soldier operating a tractor struck a plane armed with a heat-seeking missle.
"He was off his mark by 2 feet and killed 28 people," Bell said.
A student asked how their military experience affected them.
Beall said he and other Air Force recruits were trained by hardened Marine drill instructors. He said the experience "breaks you down to the lowest part of your being and builds you back as a unit."
Camilletti said his military training taught him responsibility.
"The discipline I received in the military is something I still have with me today," he said.
Following the discussion, Peroti recognized Cassidy Bland, a junior who won a contest challenging students to write about a veteran in their families.
At the assembly Principal Toni Shute led staff and students in recognizing many local veterans who were invited to stand and be recognized for their service. Also acknowledged were the families of veterans Shute noted supported the veterans' military services while making their own sacrifices.
The school's vocational students and teachers coordinated the program, which included many veterans and students as participants.
Students McKenzie Robinson and Kylie Greathouse shared writings by Clarissa Sherman, a Desert Storm veteran with two children at the school; and Ellen Larter, a teacher whose son, Jack, served in Afghanistan.
Also participating were: Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Scott Richards, who explained about Blue Star and Gold Star banners; teacher Chris Mockbee, who shared photos and memories of visiting Arlington National Cemetery and veterans monuments in Washington; the school's madrigal choir, which performed the national anthem; choir members Brent Kimball and Kassidi Reitter, who performed "Letters of War;" student Jackson Boyce, who explained symbols representing by the proper folding of the U.S. flag, as demonstrated by members of the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad; and a color guard of members from the squad and the Tri-State Marines.
At the assembly's closing, Shute invited the visiting veterans to a reception and to read thank yous from students posted on the wall outside.
Among the many who stopped to read the thank yous was Frank Ferrari of Wellsburg, who said, "It's the first time since I came back home that I felt honored to have served in Vietnam."
Sherman said of the assembly, "I think it's wonderful. I was just telling another veteran that Brooke High School always does a nice job of recognizing veterans each year."