After serving in the military and working in the coal industry, Tom Shumaker of Jefferson has earned the right to stay in bed on cold and rainy days. However, that’s not how he spent Nov. 7, just a few days before Veterans Day.
Instead, the commander of Jefferson American Legion Post 954 spent seven periods talking to seventh- and eighth-graders at Jefferson-Morgan Middle School about veterans.
His annual lecture has been taking place since 2015, when history teacher Rob Ardeno reached out to the Pennsylvania American Legion about its essay contest. Ardeno and Shumaker started talking about projects, and the teacher asked the veteran if he would like to address his students.
“I can stand up there and talk to the kids until I’m blue in the face, but until … you walked in the shoes of a soldier, you’ll never know,” Ardeno said. “As far as I’m concerned, all of our military are heroes.”
Each year, Shumaker talks about the branches of the military, the American flag, what it means to be a veteran and his experience in the Army. The specifics change depending on what the kids know and the questions they ask.
“I’ve always told kids in the past, ‘We’re not going to talk about killing or anything like that.’ I’m just trying to tell them why we are thankful for the military,” Shumaker said. “I don’t push the military on them. I know that if there’s a combat going on, why would a person want to join knowing there’s a good probability of them dying?
“Yet, we have that wall of honor up there and there are some (former students) up there that quit high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” he continued.
The wall of honor Shumaker’s referring to is another joint effort by Jefferson-Morgan School District and the American Legion. In 2015, Superintendent Joe Orr met with the school board and proposed a wall to honor students and graduates who served in the military.
“We realized, in our building, that we were honoring our athletes, that we were honoring our high-achieving academic kids, we were honoring all these different student groups, but there really wasn’t anything that was recognizing the dedication as commitment to service to our country by our kids who had chosen military service,” Orr said.
After he and his staff and school board decided what the wall of honor would look like, the district reached out to the Legion, asking if it was interested in supporting the initiative.
Since then, the post has given Jefferson-Morgan an annual contribution to alleviate the costs for frames, photos and more.
There are 250 postings on the wall.
He said there is a lot of support from the community, as well, and people visit the school to see the wall and take pictures with photos of loved ones.
“It’s just grown beyond our expectations. It’s just a very unique way to honor students in the school district, and it’s unique because this community that we serve has strong ties to military service,” Orr said. “If you look up on our wall, there’s five, six, seven generations of the same family that have served.”
Moreover, Orr said, it is an example for current students to have a chance to connect to veterans and understand their importance.
For Shumaker, it is also a way for students who want to join the military to know they will be honored and remembered for years to come.
“I think when these kids come over and they see that, and they look at that, it’s overwhelming,’” he said.
“Both men and women, whether they were in combat or not, they are still serving our country,” Ardeno said. “So I think that’s important for our students to understand our military sacrifices.”