On Friday, veterans from around Beatrice were honored for their service with ceremonies hosted by Beatrice Middle School and Beatrice High School in celebration of Veterans Day.
Just after 8 a.m. on Friday, about 500 middle school students gathered in the gym for a ceremony that began with a posting of the colors, performed by the American Legion post 27.
As soon as the flags began moving across the gym, the hundreds of students fell completely silent, something of a miracle at most schools, civics and history teacher Mike Policky said.
“That you can have a gym of 500 kids listening and paying attention shows a great appreciation for our vets,” he said.
After the crowd stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem, the Kensington Chimers—a group of resident musicians from the Kensington in Beatrice—played handbells in time to “America the Beautiful.”
Phil Dettbrenner served as the guest speaker. Dettbrenner was a Beatrice police officer and worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 14 years. Currently, he works for the Gage County Veterans Service Office. He got his start in the military when he joined the Air Force as a student at Beatrice High School.
At the Air Force base, he was assigned to work as an Air Force security officer just outside of Sacramento, Calif. On his very first day, a B52 bomber was practicing touch and go drills on the runway, the engines flooded and it crashed about two miles away, Dettbrenner said.
His first task was to guard the crash from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. until inspectors arrived, armed only with a flashlight and radio because he hadn’t been issued a weapon yet.
He remembered the smell of diesel fuel and walking through the fog and discovering a charred set of landing gear. Nine people had died, and that really struck him.
“At that point, I realized why we there doing what we were doing,” he said. “I realized the sacrifices that people had made. Many people before me and since then.”
Dettbrenner’s speech was followed by a moment of silence for fallen veterans and the playing of taps.
The whole ceremony was planned by eighth grader students, Policky said. The students booked the guests, contacted the media, and gathered all the equipment they needed to put on a Veterans Day ceremony.
“The kids do everything,” he said, “We’re just here to guide them.”
In the Hevelone Center at Beatrice High School, students and veterans began filling the auditorium for a ceremony at 10 a.m.
This year, Jason Sutter marked his 16th year as principal at BHS and his 16th year hosting the ceremony, though the annual event has been going on much longer than that, he said. This year’s ceremony was one of the biggest, he said, estimating that there were 800 people in attendance.
Following the posting of colors by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Rev. Marilyn Hasemann of Christ Church Episcopal gave the invocation before the BHS Vocal Music Department stood to sing “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”
The Veterans Day address was delivered by John Hilgert, the director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, who told the assembled group that they had heroes in their midst.
“Let them know that you care,” Hilgert said. “Listen, learn and repeat their stories. But, most of all, do not squander, do not take for granted the freedom and liberty that they have preserved for you to enjoy. Be worthy of their sacrifice.”
The school incorporated students into the event in recent years, Sutter said, and this year, all 650 kids students were in attendance, which he said is a good way to teach them what people in their community have done for their country.
“It's important for our students nowadays to see that commitment,” he said. “To see that responsibility, to see that love of country and to see that all veterans are willing to pay that ultimate price and protect our freedoms.”
Denny Hartig, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1972 to 1980, said it was a good thing to be able to have veterans together in one place.
“It was great just to see the support the veterans have,” he said. “With everything that's going on in our country today, there's too much hostility to not enjoy something like this.”