Philomath resident and Air Force veteran John Morford visited each of the schools in that town on Thursday to attend their Veterans Day ceremonies.

He was touched when the high school played a video of several students talking about family members who had served in the armed forces.

“It shows that they’re talking with their family members about their service,” Morford said.

“I just want them to be more aware of what veterans are as well as the opportunities that could help mold their lives,” he added.

Morford, a member of American Legion Post No. 21 in Corvallis, loaned service flags to the middle and high schools for their assemblies.

Mark Matthey, an infantry officer in the United States Army who works with the ROTC program at Oregon State University, addressed the high school students. Matthey, who was deployed to Iraq from 2008 to 2011, recognized the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans in attendance.

“I separate these veterans from the rest of us,” Matthey said. “These are men and women who went through far greater turbulence and trials than we do in our current Army. This is a generation of Americans that have done a lot of good for our country. Whenever you get the chance to meet a World War II, Korean War or Vietnam era veteran, take time, pick their brain. The knowledge and experience that they have is absolutely valuable to the current young generation that we’re all a part of.”

Matthey asked the crowd why veterans should be recognized.

“Because they protect our country,” one student responded.

Exactly, Matthey said.

“We have freedoms in the U.S. that are unheard of across the world,” he said. “… The reason we have those is because veterans have served and fought and won wars overseas so that we can be safe here in the United States.”

Matthey urged the students to serve their communities. He said he has chosen to serve in the Army, but knows it isn’t the right career choice for everyone.

“But serving your community, your country, is the life for everybody,” he said.

Matthey offered some possibilities: a teacher, police officer, medic, firefighter, government official or a doctor.

“All of these are lives of service,” he said.

Philomath senior Sarah Buddingh organized the Veterans Day assembly. She told the student body to enjoy the three-day weekend and to “recognize and appreciate the reason you have one.”

At the middle school, U.S. Army and Vietnam era veteran Dick Gerding shared stories from his service — some funny and some sobering. 

Gerding told the students that just over 50 years ago, on Nov. 3, 1967, he was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Division in Vietnam. He was a platoon leader to a 40-man platoon, which fought in the Battle of Đắk Tô. After that battle, he spent three weeks in the hospital, Gerding said.

“War is a horrible thing that I pray none of you have to experience,” he said.

After returning to his unit, Gerding and his platoon went on a combat assault. They were in formation when Gerding realized the men in front of him had veered off-course and the men behind him weren’t following.

“It’s about that time I heard a growl, and I looked up, and there was a tiger in the rocks eating on, it looked like a pig maybe, that it had killed,” he said.

Gerding quickly returned to his platoon.

“I’m embarrassed to tell you that that was probably the most scared I ever was in Vietnam,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience. “If there was any question about how scared I was, I peed my pants.”

Gerding told the students he was honored by their patriotism. The school band and choir had performed several patriotic songs.

“We are so grateful to have such fine young men and women as yourselves becoming the future of our country,” he said.

Shelly Brown, vice chair of the Philomath school board, said she hoped the assembly would help students appreciate what military personnel do for the country.

Brown, whose son is serving in the Army National Guard, said she was surprised by statistics Gerding offered on how many veterans are living in Philomath. According to Gerding, there are fewer than 20 World War II veterans, about 30 Korean War veterans, approximately 150 Vietnam War veterans and about 250 post-Vietnam War veterans in the Philomath area.

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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