Saluting our Servicemembers: Veterans Day Chapel at PCA

Veterans Day is more than an obligatory social media post at PCA. Hundreds of PCA Community members have direct ties to the United States armed forces. Even more, Veterans Day is a teaching opportunity for us to show our students what servant leadership looks like, with or without a military uniform. Those who raise their hand to serve our country, thereby defending the rights guaranteed to us by our founding documents, do so with the expectation that those who have NOT served will exercise those protected rights to speak, vote, and protect the democracy they willfully defend.

Each Veterans Day Chapel begins with the presentation of the nation’s colors, directed by former United States Marine and PCA Security Coordinator, Gene Watson. After the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, performed by PCA’s Voices choral group, freshman, Riley Tuttle, took to the stage.

During last year’s Veterans Day Chapel, then 8th Grader, Riley, announced his Legacy Project to create an Honor Wall, recognizing those in PCA’s community who have served our nation. Over 50 alumni, staff, faculty, and community members have been added to the wall, a 55″ TV monitor running outside of our history classrooms at the Upper School. This Honor Wall depicts each servicemember’s photo, years served, and branch served in. Graduates of PCA also show their graduation year.

Riley’s Uncle John, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom I and II from 2003 to 2006, was the inspiration for Riley’s effort to recognize our veterans through the Honor Wall.

One of the most impactful moments of our Veterans Day Chapel each year is the playing of the Armed Forces Medley, performed by our Upper School Orchestra. As each branch’s song is played, community members who served in that branch stand to be recognized by students, faculty, staff, and guests.

Following the Armed Forces Medley, Headmaster Emeritus, Ret. Army Colonel Dennis Runey, took to the podium as this year’s Veterans Day speaker.

“Even though we have a K-12 assembly here, my message is primarily for the Middle and Upper School students,” said Runey.

Speaking to the students, Runey continued, “You’re coming to the age now where you’ll become able to vote and able to serve your country. When we founded the school, we embedded in its Constitution a requirement, on the part of the staff and faculty and Board of Directors, to, among other things, focus on the history of our country, our form of government, and a sense of patriotism and appreciation for those who have served and brought this country to where it is today. That’s in our Constitution–and we stick to it. This event today is evidence of that commitment we’ve made.”

Runey went on, “Up until the American government system was formed, the people served the government, but the representative democracy flips that upside down and the government serves the people.”

Runey’s message then centered on the 4 things he believes a population needs to do in order to maintain a democracy.

  1. Citizens Must be Well-Educated.
    “An ignorant public will not make smart decisions about who represents it and what causes they support. It’s important for citizens to understand the challenges they face as a nation so that they elect the right people to do the job.”
  2. The Citizens Need to be Well-Informed.
    “You have this educated public, but now they need to hear, accurately and impartially, what’s going on.”
  3. You Have to Have a Common Ethos.
    “You have to have an understanding of what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. Historically, that structure for what is right and what is wrong was founded under the Judeo-Christian basis of our government. If everybody has their own right and their own wrong, democracy starts to flounder.”
  4. You Must be Ready to Defend Your Country.
    “This is where we need our veterans. Additionally, 2nd Amendment provides a right for citizens to bear arms.”

Runey finished with a message for the students: “My advice to you all is, as you look at this opportunity to be a citizen–do those things. Be informed. Do your research on the subjects of discussion. Make informed decisions on who you want to represent you. Voting is a very important part of the whole democratic process. You need to either participate as member of government, choosing to run yourself. Or be thoughtful in who you do select to be a representative to carry out the ideas that you wish to see perpetuated in your country.”

Following Runey’s address, Middle School Choir sang “God Bless America”, followed by a moment of silence for those veterans who gave their lives in defense of our country. PCA Senior, Sam Belmonte, played Taps, followed by 8th Grade student, Daniel, who played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

After the Chapel concluded, veterans and students connected in the gymnasium in small groups to talk about their experiences and shared valuable life lessons on service and leadership.