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Tradition of honoring veterans continues at Sycamore High

SYCAMORE – Organizer Larry Forsberg admitted he was at first unsure whether the student who would play the national anthem Friday morning at Sycamore High School’s Veterans Day program would be the right fit.

After all, sophomore Owen Polichnowski plays the electric guitar, and his tastes tend toward bands such as Iron Maiden and Megadeth. So Forsberg took the extra measure and played a recording of Polichnowski’s rendition for former SHS football coach and World War II veteran Pete Johnson.

“If a 95-year-old can like it, I think we’re OK,” Forsberg said after Johnson approved.

Students, faculty, veterans and first responders braved the frigid weather Friday morning for the Veterans Day observance, which celebrated its 12th year. Polichnowski played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as students raised the flag up the pole in front of the school.

The SHS chorus then performed a medley of military and patriotic songs.

Col. John Klink is a Sycamore graduate from the Class of 1980 and a Marine veteran of Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He spoke to the crowd after the flag-raising.

“My time here was the beginning of who I’d become,” Klink told the crowd. He said he never thought of himself as a veteran, but as someone serving his country.

After the outdoor ceremony, attendees went into the school cafeteria for donated coffee and doughnuts. Inside the cafeteria were displays from the Sycamore History Museum and DeKalb County veterans. A display by the history museum included photos of veterans from the area alongside a U.S. Army World War II uniform.

“There are familiar faces in there people may or may not know were veterans,” said Michelle Donahoe, executive director of the museum. “Some of them are very humble.”

After people warmed up, the final event of the morning took place. Veteran Walt Van Pelt carried the flag and led a march through the halls of the high school, and juniors Sam Foresman and Lily Wetzel provided a drum corps escort.

“It used to be much bigger when we went on the second floor,” Forsberg said.

When they first began the tradition of the procession, he said, students would be getting ready for class or be sitting in the halls. The person leading the procession would be instructed to stop until the sitting students stood for the flag.

“Now, no one sits,” he said.

The procession ended at the Freedom Isn’t Free wall, where pictures of all of the Sycamore High alumni who have died are hung, along with a folded American flag.

During his speech, Klink summed up what he feels Veterans Day should mean.

“Veterans Day is more about you,” he said. “A chance to reflect and say thank you.”

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