History teachers Brad Anderson and Steve Labenz will not let veterans be forgotten

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History teachers Brad Anderson and Steve Labenz will not let veterans be forgotten

Senior Jacob Wolfgang is going to be a third-generation service member in the Marine Corps.

Ever since eighth grade, he has known that this is his calling. Because of his father and grandfather, Jacob knows he can persevere through this difficult job, a job that most shy away from. More than that, he feels that joining the military is his duty. 

“I want to [join the military] so other people wouldn’t have to,” Jacob said. “It’s self sacrifice. If for some reason this country were to go to war, I’d rather risk my life a hundred times if someone didn’t have to once. As bad as it sounds, whatever happens, happens. I just know that what I’m doing, I’m doing it for the people in this country, and I’m okay with whatever happens.”

It is this selfless sentiment that draws so many people to service nowadays. They don’t do it for praise. They don’t do it for appreciation. They don’t do it for recognition. Service members forge forward into the dangerous unknown simply because they believe it is the right thing to do.

And that is why FHC chooses to honor both those who survived and those who didn’t make it home every year with a Veterans’ Day assembly. 

“I like what our school’s done with the whole Veterans’ Day assembly to honor them,” Jacob said. “They, most of them, laid their lives down. [They] went in and got deployed in combat, and some of them, it’s sad to say, didn’t come back. I mean, it’s a tough thing to do.”

FHC is expecting more than 100 veterans at the assembly on Monday.  It will be the largest turnout yet. Since history teacher Brad Anderson and principal Steve Passinault first pieced together this annual assembly three years ago, the number of honorees has grown exponentially from the seven or eight original veterans who first attended.

These veterans will be honored by a bagpipe processional followed by the color guard. As they make their way to the gym from the welcome breakfast, they will be met by the senior class lining the halls, standing as a sign of respect and remembrance. 

“I want the students to embrace the veterans,” Anderson said. “It’s as much for the veterans as it is about the students. My purpose, I think [history teacher Steve Labenz’s] purpose as well, is to provide the good feelings of comradery and community that help those veterans feel like they belong. They’re valued. They have a place here. This is their home. You remember them, and they were not forgotten whether they made it through or they did not make it. There’s nothing like community. It’s powerful.”

For Vietnam veterans, community is something America severely lacked when they returned home from duty due to the controversies and atrocities regarding the war. Fighting for our country was something to be ashamed of during that period — not that the drafted young men had much of a choice in the matter.

With many World War II and Korean War veterans passing away, Vietnam vets are now entering the foreground. Though society has come a long way from the degrading and berating of Vietnam veterans, Anderson believes there is still so much more that we can do.

“We live in a society today that has a short memory — sound bites, quick snippets,” Anderson said. “It seems like the American memory of the American past is forgotten very quickly.  You know, nowadays, as was the case back in World War II, you’d come home to a welcome parade, and there’s nothing like that anymore. It’s not so much as glorifying war or glorifying the military as much as it is simply honoring those people and letting them know that we care. We remember them. And although we have no idea what they went through, we want them to know that their community will remember them.”

Labenz, who has been working with Anderson on numerous FHC community engagement projects, echoed Anderson’s beliefs and thinks that honoring these veterans has “been a long time overdue.”

In fact, these two history teachers’ latest project was inspired by the retirement of FHC alumni and Vietnam veteran Homer Speidel from his custodial job. With the help of FASTSIGNS and Freshwater Digital, the two created an impressive wall of honor for alumni service members that displays their dog tags and includes a touching memorial for those who didn’t make it home. 

The newest addition is an interactive wall that holds information about almost 300 service members. However, some stories have more holes in them than others. In the future, Labenz and Anderson are hoping to have their students conduct research in order to add depth to each profile, beyond just their name and formal military photo.

“[The goal is] to try to tell the story of the people a little bit better,” Labenz said. “It’s part of our history, and I think it’s always good for us to take a moment [to think about that].”

By creating this wall, Anderson and Labenz have given FHC a permanent reminder of how fortunate each and every person walking the halls is. Rather than appreciation filling students and staff for one singular day, Anderson and Labenz have insured that gratitude for the sacrifices of our veterans will thrive in each person’s soul every time they walk through the doors of FHC.

“Sometimes you hear the phrase — and I know for some people they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of a trite phrase’ — but freedom isn’t free,” Labenz said. “I mean these guys, they walked the talk. You know, they went out there, and when the chips were down, they fought. Everybody gives up something when they serve, and some people gave up everything.”

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