As the words to “You’re a Grand Old Flag” rang out in front of St. Anthony de Padua Catholic School Friday, it was clear some of the youngest students don’t quite know all the words yet. But they can tell you a lot about Veteran’s Day and its true meaning.
“Because people risked their lives for us,” said 7-year-old Jillian Herzig, a second grade student at St. Anthony’s.
“All I know is that they’re brave to go and fight for their country,” added Tyrick Kamau, a 9-year-old fourth grade student who was also at the ceremony.
Those lessons came from members of Miller’s Vets – a drill team of homeless veterans formed by retired St. Joseph County judge and veteran Robert Miller, Sr.
“It’s wonderful. They’re coming up and they understand and they’re a bunch of great kids, they really are,” said Vietnam War veteran Victor Cihonski.
He’s one of those homeless vets who helped raise an American flag above the school in a special dedication ceremony Friday morning. It flew above our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. and is now a reminder for the students about the true meaning of Veteran’s day.
The flag was provided by Senator-elect Joe Donnelly, who is also a member of the St. Anthony’s parish, said Miller.
For Cihonski and other homeless veterans who are now fighting to get back on their feet, the ceremony was a special way to bring the message home.
“That was wonderful,” he said of his interaction with the students after the ceremony. “It was an honor for me to shake their hand. It was really great.”
“They can’t learn this in a history book,” added Miller. “My vets out here, this does so much for them to be among the public and have them thank them and hug them in many cases and acknowledge their worth. It helps raise their self respect.”
The retired judge became emotional when talking about the impact Miller's Vets had on the children.
"These young children are what it's all about. And to have them here in this setting with that new flag and learned value of that and what it's meant to the veterans who fought under it, it's heart wrenching," he said. "I've got a bunch of kids, a bunch of great grandkids, and when I feel the best around them is when they realize how this country became free and who paid the price. And it's very touching."
Miller had a difficult time recruiting veterans for Friday’s flag dedication because many of the homeless vets in his program now have full time jobs. He started Miller's Vets in 2009.