Veterans honored at CJHS

Jim Potts TimesNewspapers
Private Jacob Lewis addresses Central Junior High School students at an all-school assembly on Nov. 10.

Students were off school on Veterans Day, but the day before, on Nov. 10, the teachers and staff of Central Junior High School held an assembly in the school’s new gymnasium to recognize America’s veterans and to demonstrate why the Veterans Day observance is so important.

The assembly began with a bagpipe performance of “Amazing Grace” and teacher Chris Frasco, wearing a Marines T-shirt. Frasco offered students advice on how to communicate respectfully with veterans and then related his own experience serving in the United States Marine Corps and the positive effect military service had on his life. Frasco served in the Marine Corps from 1994 to 1998.

Frasco said, “It was a calling to do something different ... I wanted to do something to serve my country.”

Geneva Mann-Brown continued the presentation with a music video tribute montage to veterans and their service. Brown had been a teacher at Central Junior High School for 17 years and is a former active duty Navy veteran of four years and served for six years as an Illinois Air Guard reservist. She told students about her early life and the positive role military service played in it.

Mann-Brown then related stories of two relatives who served America in World War II — one of her Uncle Ernie that returned wounded and one of James “Jimmy” McAllen, who was killed in action.

Mann-Brown’s Uncle Ernie fought battles in North Africa, Algeria, and in Normandy on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

“If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” my uncle never watched that movie. He didn’t have to because he lived it,” Mann-Brown said.

“I look out over this audience and see so much potential. My Uncle Ernie fought for you, for each and every one, so that you can be free today,” she added.

Uncle Ernie lost one of his legs on July 30, 1944, when he was locating and detonating land mines in France so other soldiers would not be hurt by them, Mann-Brown said. He received a titanium leg in the mid-1990s and suffered the psychological challenges combat soldiers experience for the rest of his life.

“Ernie gave you his peace of mind and his leg,” Mann-Brown said.

Mann-Brown’s relative James “Jimmy” McCowan enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating high school in 1944, when World War II was almost over. McAllen was sent to the island of Okinawa and was chosen to be the first scout of his unit off the invasion boat and was killed by enemy gunfire.

Mann-Brown said, “I want you to look in the eyes in that photo and tell me you don’t care about your freedom. Jimmy never had the chance to grow up.”

Mann-Brown showed students the Purple Heart medal her Uncle Ernie was awarded for being wounded in battle, and members of Central’s girls’ basketball team showed students McCowan’s military portrait and his dress uniform.

Mann-Brown said, “This is the uniform of a war hero. This man fought for you, and he died for you. That’s what Veterans Day is all about.”

After Mann-Brown’s presentation Pvt. Jacob Lewis, a graduate of Central Junior High School who is currently serving in the Army and stationed in Bartonville, spoke about why he chose to serve his country.

The assembly ended with a six-minute video of veterans and active military serving in the field with the Kid Rock song “Warrior.” The students and teachers cheered and clapped along with the music before students were dismissed to observe the Veterans Day holiday.

When Mann-Brown asked students what is the most expensive thing they have, they mentioned possessions like their phones and iPads.

Mann-Brown said, “Freedom is the most expensive thing you will ever own.”