Lighthouse Christian students honor veterans
“Our veterans are very special to us. We pray our program shows them how much we care,” said second-grader Megan Brining, who opened Lighthouse Christian School’s (LCS) annual Veterans Day program with a prayer.
The program, held on Nov. 18, featured a presentation of the colors, the “Pledge of Allegiance” and seventh-grader Izzy Donihue singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and focused on honoring all branches of the military services.
Eighth-grader Danny Williams introduced Airman 1st class Rudy Viguie, who served as F-86 crew chief in the U.S. Air Force, noting the branch was created in 1947, after President Truman signed the National Security Act.
“What did the Air Force do to me as an individual?” said Viguie. “In 1952, I was a 16-year-old kid growing up on the streets of New York City, totally unsupervised. I came from a single-parent home, basically did what I wanted. I don’t know how I stayed out of trouble.
“At age 17 — six days after I turned 17 — I went away to the Air Force and did the military thing. You know, that first day in the military, you’re a civilian; 16 weeks later, you’re a different person.”
Viguie said what has stuck with him through the years is, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir” and “No excuse, sir.”
After mechanic school, Viguie became a crew chief, at 18.
“I went to Korea for a year. Like everybody here, we are the fortunate ones — we came back. Nobody shot at me, nobody dropped bombs on me; I was fortunate. I came back, and I’ve never forgot it.”
After leaving the Air Force, Viguie worked in the aviation field and, at 81, is still working. His wife, Pat, who organized the event, noted Viguie had recently been presented with a lifetime achievement award from ALD Ltd.
Eighth-grader Alexis Birdsong introduced 1st Sgt. Waymon Harmon Jr. of the Delaware National Guard.
“The primary duty of the Army is not only to protect and defend not only the U.S. but also its interests around the world through the use of ground troops, artillery and tactical weapons,” said Birdsong. “As the oldest branch of the military, the Army protects the security of the U.S. and its resources.”
Harmon thanked the school and its students for their program.
“We always look forward to coming to your program. You do something different every year, and it’s always exciting. We really enjoy the interaction.”
Harmon, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to joining the National Guard, said the Delaware National Guard dates back to 1655, when Swedish immigrants in New Castle County were asked to defend Fort Christina.
“In 1903, we were actually established as a legitimate component of the United States Army and the United States National Guard.
“The one thing I love about the Delaware National Guard is that it’s multifaceted. We do quite a bit. We’re in the states, we’re in the communities, and we can deploy overseas, as well to assist our brothers and sisters as needed.”
Harmon said the Guard has been busy since 1903, but what the branch loves the most is its interaction with the community.
“It’s awesome to wear the uniform and be a part of your community and to help make someone’s life better. … We strongly encourage those that may be looking to be productive in society that want to be a part of something great to consider us. Consider working in your community alongside fellow soldiers from all walks of life.
“I smile every day when I go to work. I’m smiling when I roll through the gate and when I leave. These are just a great bunch of folks to work with.”
Boatswain Mate 3rd Class Abraham Zepeda of the U.S. Coast Guard was introduced by seventh-grader Matt Tilghman.
“The primary assignment of the Coast Guard is to provide law-enforcement support, as well as rescue services,” said Tilghman.
Zepeda, who is stationed at the Indian River Inlet, said a lot of people don’t know what the Coast Guard does.
“We go out and save anybody who’s in distress,” he said. “I wanted to join to serve and to help save others. I wanted to get out there, do the jobs most other people wouldn’t do, and take up the challenges that most people wouldn’t dare to take.”
After his presentation, Zepeda gave the students the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
“Why do we send supplies to people?” repeated Zepeda. “A lot of times people can’t get to supplies. Maybe they’re stuck. I know in Hurricane Katrina, there were people whose homes were flooded; they couldn’t get to their cars and back to safety. The Coast Guard came out, delivered them supplies; we got them out of their homes and back to safety.”
Zepeda said it was a true honor to have been invited to the program and be in a room with so many veterans.
Sixth-grader Chance Hocker introduced Sgt. Ret. Jim Lafferty of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It was established in the Continental Congress in November 1775. The primary function of the Marine Corps is to act as an assault force to patrol beaches and prepare the land for landing forces of the United States Navy.”
“This is my first time here, but I’m coming back,” said Lafferty. “When I look and see the patriotism here and hear the songs they sing about the flag… I know now the country is in good hands.”
Lafferty graduated from high school at 17 and didn’t know what he was going to do with his life.
“One night at dinner, I informed my parents I was going to join the military. Well, that ruined the dinner. There was no dessert that night,” he recalled.
After speaking to one of his cousins who was a Marine, Lafferty said he knew he wanted to serve his country as a Marine.
“There was something unique about him and his approach, and the way he spoke about the Marine Corps. There was a certain element of pride that he had. He was so happy to share with someone about the Corps,” he said, noting that the Corps seemed more like a brotherhood than a branch of the service.
At 18, Lafferty joined the Marine Corps and “woke up” in Parris Island.
“It was more mental than physical,” he said of his training there. “They take people from every walk of life, all over the country and mold them into a unit. You lose your individuality but you end up becoming a team.”
Sixth-grader Elie Christenbury introduced Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Rothenhoefer of the U.S. Navy.
“[The Navy] is primarily assigned the duty of maintaining and assuring freedom on the open seas,” she said, adding that it was created through the Continental Congress in 1775.
Rothenhoefer said he was a member of the Navy from 1965 to 1969, as a hospital corpsman and petty officer. At that time, Rothenhoefer said, men were either being drafted or enlisting in the branch of their choice.
“I had already gone to school for X-ray technology and was working as an X-ray technician at a civilian hospital. I felt the Navy would allow me to continue my career in medicine while serving my country.”
While working at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, working as a hospital corpsman and X-ray technician, Rothenhoefer met his wife, Sue. After they were married, he was transferred to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
“Our daughter Lynn was born there and was 2 months old when I left for Vietnam.
“You know, it’s funny — I joined the Navy thinking I’d be on a ship, but the Navy decided my sea duty would not be on a ship but on an island in Vietnam. In May 1968, I went to Vietnam to be one of the many Navy corpsmen assigned to a special combined action patrol made up of eight to 10 Marines and about 20 Vietnamese Popular Force soldiers and me.
“The Marines had nicknamed me ‘Doc.’ My job was to provide medical care to the Marines and Vietnamese soldiers. We lived in the village with the Vietnamese people. We ate with them and held sick-hall days for them.”
Rothenhoefer said they hoped to gain the trust of the Vietnamese people in order for them to share secrets with the U.S.
“It was hard being away from my family, especially my little girl, but God was good to me and brought me home safely.”
LCS teacher Laura Ennis, with her son Henry, a first-grader, spoke of her father, the late Sgt. 1st Class James Podlas of the 101st Airborne Army, who is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
“This hallowed ground holds the remains of our nation’s most valuable resources — our soldiers. This sacred ground is not for sale or for purchase. Each spot is earned by the courage and the loyalty of the men and women who serve these United States of America.”
Ennis said her father left his home and boyhood behind to serve his nation during the Vietnam War.
“While others sought to criticize and protest, my father chose to defend and protect. My father returned home from war as a different person.
“At this time in history, our Vietnam veterans were not afforded a hero’s welcome that they so rightly deserved. Instead, the nation seemed to ignore their valor and swept their sacrifices under the rug.”
Podlas passed away on July 4, 2016. He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery last month.
“My father has received a hero’s welcome at last,” said Ennis. “I am proud to be the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. My son Henry and I are honored to be standing here today with everyone who has served, past and present. Our veterans are truly the fabric of our democracy.”
Following the presentations, the event included the White Table POW/MIA Remembrance ceremony, in which a table is set, symbolizing those missing and lost in the country’s wars.
Terri Menoche, director of LCS, thanked the veteran and active-duty servicemen and -women who attended the program for their service.
“That’s why we’re trying to train up generations to never forget that freedom does not come free. There is a cost. And it is an amazing cost that you and many of your fellow comrades have paid — a tremendous price… And many of the family members. There’s a tremendous sacrifice.”
Following the program, all the servicemen and -women were asked to line the front of the sanctuary and, one by one, each student and civilian in attendance shook the hand of the veterans and thanked them for their service.
“The nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave,” said Menoche.
“What a great event! It’s an inspiration. I wish all the schools would take advantage of this and join in the patriotism of this country,” said Harmon following the program. “It would be so cool to instill that patriotism back into the public school system. The love of the country that you feel here is awesome. It brings out all the branches of the service. The spirit and enthusiasm they have here is definitely awesome.”