The morning after Veterans Day was different for Westminster High School students, who were faced with gallery panels of recent military alumni and, for the first time, a sampling of the 650 alumni who served in World War II, alongside a box providing a way to donate to currently deployed troops.
Steve Bowersox, a U.S. history teacher, stood in the lobby on Monday to greet students and share his research with them — the culmination of 12 years of digging.
“We have a gallery walk,” he said. “We ask for pictures from our students, of people in their family who are serving or have served, to build this community Veterans Day thing. So we have a bunch of those pictures, and I also — 10 or 12 years ago — stumbled across some information about Westminster High School students participating in World War II.
“I started doing research,” said Bowersox, “which I’ve been doing off and on for the last 10, 12 years, so we are up to now over 650 Westminster students who participated in WWII. A lot of these pictures in the gallery walk will be of those students.”
Bowersox put together the exhibit with help from Media Specialist Kathleen Brunette and Media assistant Kim Hackett, he said, and had a brochure with information on the veterans next to the gallery panels on a table in the lobby.
“It’s remarkable, the stories,” he said, “from going through the Historical Society [of Carroll County] and several years ago, talking to some of the vets, and the Carroll County Times archives all the way back to that time. A lot of stories came out of that our guys and girls were everywhere from Pearl Harbor to D-Day, to the Battle of the Bulge and every major event you can think of.”
One of the photos was of about 30 marching band members in 1940. Bowersox said they didn’t know that 17 of them would later go to war, or that the two trumpet players would die there.
Another photo depicted Westminster High Class President Hugh Spier from the class of 1941.
According to a book Bowersox’s class was reading, “Ordinary Americans,” Spier’s mother was criticized in town for not being patriotic enough to wave a flag when the Japanese surrendered.
“But,” he said, “she said the only flag she had was the one that came in on her son’s coffin.”
The celebration and exhibit
At 8:30 a.m. Monday morning the Honors Festival Chorus sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by the Honors Orchestra playing “Grand Old Flag,” “America the Beautiful,” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
After the patriotic music, various teachers brought their students to check out the display.
Social studies teacher Aaron Robinson brought his class down after talking about the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.
“Steve has been doing research on WWII veterans at least as long as I’ve been here,” said Robinson, “and I started in 2008. It’s interesting to watch his research come out in different formats.
“These kids here [today], they don’t know the future,” he said, “the same as these students [back then] didn’t know their future. But they were up for the task.”
“A good portion of them didn’t know what was coming,” said Jamal Williams, 17. “It makes me reflect on current times and the calm before the storm. It’s likely something will happen in my lifetime, a war. Hopefully it’s not anytime soon.”
Sixteen-year-old students Isabela Cool and Emma Gonder also felt the connection between the World War II era and the modern day.
“I just think it’s really powerful, seeing the teachers and alumni and how many have served,” said Cool.
“Their faces remind me of people I already know,” said Gonder. “At 16 this was normal for them.”
America’s Warriors Care Package Projects
Also in the lobby sat a large red and white box of donations for American troops overseas.
The history teacher, who is also a veteran, was able to collect donations from teachers and students for Westminster resident Dawn Geigan’s America’s Warriors Care Package Projects.
The nonprofit collects donations seasonally to send to soldiers from the area who are serving in other countries.
Geigan’s son, Kenly Smith, is actively serving in the Marine Corps and had his photo is up on the alumni panel at WHS. She just sent a shipment for Thanksgiving out two weeks ago; now she is collecting candy, food items, toiletries, and cards for the winter holidays, and even New Year’s Eve celebratory items, until Nov. 24.
Instructional assistant Denise Stitely was one of the staff members to donate to the America’s Warrior Care Package Projects.
“I brought some toiletries and everything, and some magazines,” she said Monday morning. “I’m very happy that the soldiers are over in Afghanistan, that they are protecting us. They’ve given their lives to protect us over here. We appreciate all they do.”
Bowersox said there was something extra-special in the box.
“We have a preschool that comes in here, and the preschool teacher asked the kids to make cards,” he said. “So there’s a bunch of cards the kids made to send off to the troops.”
Geigan said oftentimes it is these greeting cards from young children that mean more to the soldiers than anything else.
She also wants to help them ring in the new year properly.
“One of the things we would love to do for people,” Geigan said, “we would love to send some packages for New Year’s, with the hats, noise makers and a bunch of cigars.
“These people are over there in places you and I would not want to be,” she said. “It’s certainly not a necessity, but it’s something like: It’s the holidays and you are not forgotten.
“We can’t send alcohol, but we can send cigars, to make it a little bit better and brighter for them,” she said.
For anyone interested in learning more about Westminster High School’s veteran alumni, the display will be in the media center.
More information about America’s Warriors Care Package Projects can be found on its website, www.awcpp.com.