Oakdale High School joined together Thursday to honor veterans from all eras of service at a Veterans Day assembly and luncheon.
Col. Wayne Green, vice president and chief of staff at Mount St. Mary’s University, gave the keynote speech, which individually honored several veterans present at the ceremony. He had interviewed them about their experiences serving and wanted to share their stories with the audience.
“Today is a special day amidst our hectic lives, our full schedules and our ever-present, blaring social media,” Green said. “Today we have giants seated among us, right here with us.”
Green served in the Army for 30 years and was chief of staff of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his two sons are now cadets.
One of the eight men honored was 98-year-old Buck Isaacs, who is the last surviving member of the 70th Tank Battalion in World War II. The battalion had 1,200 original members, 700 of whom earned Purple Hearts for wounds in combat.
Isaacs worked as a tank mechanic after being introduced to tanks at Fort Meade. He enlisted when he was just 19 years old.
“His path to defeat Nazi Germany reads like a history book in and of itself, although he summarized his time in the Army by saying, ‘Do you know that I got an all-expense-paid trip to Europe and spent two full years of my life sleeping on the ground?’” Green said.
Isaacs was deployed to Casablanca, where he helped evict Germany from North Africa. He also fought to liberate Sicily. His unit also fought through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and ended the war in Rothenberg.
For Isaacs, the decision to enlist wasn’t a difficult one.
“Like all 19-year-old boys, you want to go somewhere and do something, so that’s what I did,” he said.
Isaacs now resides at Country Meadows Retirement Communities. His great-grandson, Derek Swimmer, attends Oakdale High School.
Green also honored Marilyn Sandler, who served as a nurse in the Army from 1945 to 1947, and Bert Sikowitz, who enlisted at 17 years old. He worked in the engine room of the Horace A. Bass APD 124, which was struck by a Japanese kamikaze plane in July 1945.
Many of the other veterans honored in the speech have connections to Oakdale. Ernie Brightman, who served aboard the USS Puget Sound aircraft carrier in World War II, came from Pittsburgh for the ceremony. His three grandchildren attend Oakdale.
Several members of the Oakdale faculty and staff were also recognized. Music teacher Benjamin Zamostny, known as Mr. Z at the school, served in the Marine Corps from 1998 to 2002 as a musician for the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Band.
Lead maintenance tech Brian Smith, known as Smitty by the Oakdale community, served in the Navy during the Cold War.
“I guess by comparison, taking care of us at Oakdale must seem easy compared to servicing a ship underway in the Pacific during a typhoon,” Green said.
Charles “Chuck” Welch, career and technical education teacher, served in the Navy for over 22 years. Another teacher, Ed Schoeder, was responsible for organizing the event with the help of students. He served in the Army from 1981 to 1985.
“It’s important to continue this tradition of service and honoring our veterans,” Schoeder said.
The ceremony began with the armed forces medley being played. Veterans were asked to stand for their division of service, as well as their era of service. Sixty veterans were in attendance at Oakdale, and Schoeder said that 42 Oakdale alumni currently serve in the armed forces or who are committed to serve.
Senior Madi Spencer and junior Aubrey Linthicum served as masters of ceremonies. It also featured performances from student singers Sarah Lamarre, David Los and Catherine Brennan.
A table for one was set in the auditorium for all of the passed veterans, prisoners of war and those who went missing in action.
After the ceremony, veterans were invited to a luncheon upstairs.