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Portage High’s Veterans Day ceremony offers lessons that ‘go way beyond the classroom’

November 8, 2018

More and more veterans attend Portage High School’s Veterans Day ceremony, year after year.

The school hopes the trend continues Friday afternoon.

“I always order way more chairs than we’ll need, let’s put it that way,” social studies teacher Ed Carlson said of the 14th annual event.

Carlson, the founder and chief organizer of the event, reported 108 veterans attended last year’s ceremony in the high school’s gymnasium, the most ever.

“We welcome veterans from Briggsville, Poynette, Wisconsin Dells, wherever they’re from. We want all veterans to know they’re welcome here,” Carlson said, noting the ceremony is known for singling out every veteran who attends.

This year’s theme is Past, Present and Future, highlighted by a presentation of military uniforms used in World War I and World War II, the Vietnam era and modern conflicts and student presenters who will read letters from or written to veterans during various wars.

“I thought it would be neat to have people see that no matter how much the world changes, the things people are concerned about on the battlefield remain the same,” Carlson said. “How are things at home? How are the pets doing? How are the crops? How’s the hunt going? How’s the football team doing?”

Norm Bednarek, American Legion Post 47 adjutant, continued Carlson’s line of questioning: “Is everybody OK? Who had a baby? Who died?

“Knowing things like that were very important to veterans, and the letters were something we looked forward to every single day.”

Carlson said he expects students to read about 10 letters in the ceremony, most of them locally written. In his history classroom, Carlson teaches a unit where students read letters written during the Vietnam War era, but the new feature of the school’s Veterans Day ceremony this year has helped them “make personal connections” with the letters.

“When you know who the letter came from, or you know their family and how much it means to them, it’s just awesome,” he said.

Friday’s ceremony also will include flag presentations, patriotic performances by the school’s concert choir and band, Richard Hoege playing the bagpipes and more.

Carlson and a small group of veterans like Bednarek serve on the event’s planning committee, where they discuss in almost every meeting how much the event means to students, Carlson said. The primary goal of the ceremony is to honor veterans, but what students gain from the ceremony is never lost on the planning committee.

Before the event even starts, Carlson noted, student ambassadors keep busy helping the attending veterans park their cars or find their seats in the gym, and when the event is over, their expressions of gratitude prove to be “amazing, every year.”

“I know as teacher how much it means to the students to have veterans here in the building,” Carlson said. “These lessons go way beyond the classroom.”

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