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Honoring the sacrifice

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

In honor of Veterans Day, Roosevelt Elementary students on Friday treated veterans to a fine dining experience.

A "wall of honor" featuring the veterans' photographs and service information greeted the 134 veterans as they were escorted to the Roosevelt library for a luncheon. Serving as a makeshift hospitality room, the school's art room displayed greeting cards handmade by students and award-winning poppy displays designed by the Hays VFW Auxiliary.

Parent volunteers, teachers and fifth-grade hosts in the library hustled from table to table with plates of ham, scalloped potatoes and homemade rolls.

The veterans shared stories with the children. Matthew Koerner, who served on the U.S.S. Enterprise sat near his niece, kindergartner Kyleigh Brown. Blonde curls surrounding her face, she smiled and nodded when asked if it was fun to have her uncle in school.

Her grandfather, Ralph Russell, a veteran who served in Korea during the Vietnam War, sat across the table. Russell remembered his days of being among the three of his five brothers to serve during the war.

"The older one and the youngest one made it out of the lottery system," he said. "I was at the tail end of the draft."

Russell pointed out his grandson, second-grader Brayden Brown, sitting beside him. When Brayden was asked if he would like to serve in the military someday, it was his granddad who spoke for him.

"I don't wish it on anybody," Russell said. "It's their own opinion.

"I didn't have any choice, I was drafted."

As volunteers filled plates, fifth grade teacher Deanna Smith took a moment to reflect on the event.

"It means a lot for the kids to be with the veterans, and it's good for the veterans to see their grandchildren's school," Smith said.

The event, a brainstorm of fifth-grade teacher Gay Flax and librarian Traci Henning, launched last year, serving 58 people.

The idea for the luncheon sprang from a request made by Roosevelt principal Lee Keffer of Henning to create a veterans wall of honor in conjunction with a veterans' luncheon in the cafeteria. Henning and Flax took the idea one step further, cooking the meal themselves and serving it in the library.

"I don't know how the two of us did it last year," Flax said. "This year, we started on it earlier, because we made notes to ourselves last year.

"We thought we could stream-line this a little bit better."

Henning said veterans from Sharon Springs, Mullinville, Ransom, Plainville, Phillipsburg and Hays attended the event.

Friday's luncheon proved to be a coordinated effort from many sources. Students brought photos of their veterans and signed up in advance for the lunch. Teachers decorated, baked cakes, cooked the hams and scalloped potatoes. School cooks baked fresh rolls.

"The whole thing started because of the sacrifices of veterans," Flax said. "These kids have to have this education to appreciate veterans and love the country we're in."

Fourth-grader Josiah Grizzle took a seat at the head of the table with his dad and grandpa. When asked if he knew much about his dad's and grandpa's service in the military, he said "no."

"We haven't talked a lot about it," said his dad Richard Grizzle, who served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991, before Josiah was born.

Josiah's grandpa, Joe Klaus, served in Korea from 1953 to 1955.

Looking around the room, Richard Grizzle said the event had grown since he attended last year.

"They do a good job," he said of the volunteers and teachers. "I appreciate it."