First Presbyterian Church
We have invited veteran guests to join our LOGOS group at dinner for several years, on the Wednesday closest to November 11, and have enjoyed an overwhelming response to the event. A few weeks before our Veterans Celebration, we give the children an invitation to invite veterans from any branch of the military, active or retired. We enjoy the responses to the invitation, and look forward to meeting their friends at dinner.
We decorate the fellowship hall with red, white, and blue tablecloths, and all the patriotic décor we can find. We generally have the same menu: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, and apple pie with ice cream. The children often make thank you cards for their veteran friends during recreation, and we have also had a "memory wall" to write the names of deceased military friends and family members.
Sometimes our table parents are veterans, and we enjoy hearing their stories. Often, children's parents have served in the military, as well as neighbors, grandparents, church members and friends. Every year we make a point to seat at least one veteran at each table so that the children can talk to them and enjoy visiting during dinner. Children just swell with pride when they have personally invited a grandparent or neighbor, and they enjoy introducing them to the group.
After dinner we have done a variety of different things, but generally we have the Pledge of Allegiance, sing a patriotic song or two, and have a recitation of "In Flanders' Fields," commemorating the first Veterans Day on November 11, 1918. We have also picked up poppies from local VFW posts and have made paper poppies in recreation to give to the veterans. We have a table reserved for veterans to bring pictures or memorabilia -- we've had photos of airplanes, ships, military units, and even some uniforms and medals.
The highlight of the evening is when each veteran introduces him/herself to the entire room. It is really very moving (and also very quiet in the room). They tell which branch of the military they served in, usually tell their rank, where they served, and sometimes give us their serial number (they all still remember)! Some have some stories to tell, and this room full of wiggly, active, talkative children truly quiets down to listen to these stories. Then we end with much applause and a standing ovation for our veteran friends, which is quite moving and humbling.
One thing that makes this evening so moving is that the children are able to see real people who served in the military -- they eat dinner with them, get to know them, listen to their stories, and honor them for their service. it is a wonderful opportunity to pause and think about and consider the great sacrifice these men and women made for our freedom.