Pekin community gathers to honor local Veterans

The local Quilts of Valor ladies cloaked Carroll Steinbeck with a quilt to recognize and thank him for his service in defending the United States.

Students, staff and the community took some time out of their busy morning to honor those that have served our country, gathering in the Pekin High School gym. The assembly took place on November 10, one day before the official Veterans Day.

The morning began with a presentation of the Iowan and National flags, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Students involved with the TAG (Talented and Gifted) program then played a short video clip titled "a Soldier's Christmas" to the hymn of Silent Night. Following that, Maci Gambell spoke about her fundraiser "Wreaths Across America." The goal for Gambell is to place a single wreath on each veteran's grave in the area, with the official wreath lying day to take place in mid-December.

What made the assembly even more special, and personal for the Pekin faithful, was having one of their own speak on behalf of the meaning and importance of Veterans Day. Dave Harper, Superintendent of Pekin and Sigourney schools, was this year's speaker. Not only does he hold the high role within the school district, he also has achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, through various missions in Afghanistan.

Harper addressed the audience as well as his fellow veterans, in speaking about who veterans are. He touched on the fact that a veteran doesn't have to be someone who fought on the front lines, it's anyone who made it their duty to protect the United States. Harper also spoke about the importance of the National flag, something that not only made him choke up, but also resulted in tears being shed by some of the other veterans.

He made it known that the flag isn't just about the freedoms provided to its citizens but also has a bigger meaning to those in service. For many, it reminded them of the brothers in arms that fought alongside them, many who lost their lives in battle. Earlier during the assembly, Principal Tim Hadley asked everyone to stand that was related to or knew a veteran. Nearly everybody stood. That connection, combined with the powerful words spoken by Harper, made for an emotional few minutes for everybody.

Harper concluded his speech by telling the students and community to lead with their actions.

"Don't just say you'll do something, go out and do it," Harper said. "Make a difference in your community, your state and your nation."

Following Harper's speech was a special honor made to two of the veterans in attendance. Ladies from the local Quilts of Valor group brought two quilts with them to honor Carroll Steinbeck and Bobby Winn.

Steinbeck is part of a rapidly declining national population of World War Two combatants. After reading off his accolades and service details, two of the quilt ladies draped his quilt over his shoulders. Shortly after, he approached the podium to say a few words.

"From the bottom of my heart, this means everything to me," Steinbeck said. "My family will continue to cherish it after I'm gone."

Winn was the second recipient had a shorter stint overseas, his service occurring during the Vietnam War. He was honorably discharged and awarded the purple heart for being injured in the line of fire. The Quilts of Valor program is nationwide, made up of volunteers who want to give back to those that have given their all.

The morning ended with Hadley telling the students to thank those who have served, whether it be with a handshake, vocal acknowledgement or through other actions. As many of the students began to file out of the gym, some stuck around and did just as Mr. Hadley had suggested.

"Every year this is a reminder of the heroes that live within our own community and those that have given them the opportunity to learn in a free society," Hadley said. "I think about 99 percent of our kids know a veteran personally. It's good to honor them and their service as well."