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Waite High School honors sacrifices of military families

By LILY MOORE-EISSENBERG | Toledo Tribune News Service | Published: May 18, 2018

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Veronica Mora was at her mother's house recovering from the birth of her third child when two men from the Department of Defense came knocking.

Her brother answered the door. When Mrs. Mora's foot touched the third step of the staircase and she saw his face, drained of color, she knew her worst fear had become reality.

Thirteen years later, Mrs. Mora, whose husband, Army Sgt. Arthur Mora, was killed in action in Iraq in 2005, was the keynote speaker at Waite High School's 103rd annual Memorial Day program, "The War at Home," held Thursday at 1 p.m. Program organizers said they wanted to turn the focus from the battlefield to the impact of loss on families and communities.

"I had to make a plan for our new normal," Mrs. Mora, 34, of Perrysburg said in her keynote address. "My new normal was raising three children, including a newborn, by myself, while grieving for my husband."

For military families who have lost a loved one, Mrs. Mora said, "Memorial Day is every day."

The event at Waite began with a medley of patriotic tunes played by the school band as more than 250 audience members, including at least 25 local veterans, filed into the auditorium.

Wreaths, bouquets, and bows dressed the stage in red, white, and blue, and a projector showed black-and-white photos of former students who died in military service.

Joe Boyle, social studies teacher and program coordinator, delivered the welcome address, followed by a presentation of the colors, speeches music by the band and choir, a reading of the Gettysburg Address, and the annual "litany of Waite's fallen heroes" -- a recitation of the names of Waite alumni who died in military service, punctuated by bells.

Christopher Mora, 12, Mrs. Mora's son, spoke before his mother's keynote address. Born eight days before his father was killed in action, Christopher said that when he's having a bad day, he takes out his family's flag and reads the letters his father wrote home.

"I think if my dad were here today, he'd be proud of me," Christopher said.

After the speeches and the litany of names, the audience moved outside to the World War II memorial by the athletic fields. Wreaths were placed beside the memorial, and the ceremony concluded with the traditional military song, "Taps," played by music teacher Matt Fritz.

Robert E. Stewart, president of the Toledo chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said he tries to come to Waite's Memorial Day program every year.

"If we don't honor those who served...and paid the ultimate price," he said, "who's going to want to step up and serve the country?"

Principal Todd Deem emphasized the importance of bridging the generational gap between veterans and students.

"We try to make sure our students know who came before them," he said.

Waite, with its unrenovated hardwood floors, 20th-century bookcases, and four different war memorials, is a school steeped in history. Since its opening, it has had strong ties to the military. This year four of its seniors have signed contracts to join the armed forces.

Theodore Wahl, 17, said he's excited to "carry on the family tradition" in the Army next year.

Hannah Parish, 18, the event's lead student organizer, described the ripple effect of a loss in the Waite community and stressed the idea that everyone -- even high school students -- feel the impact.

Of Waite's fallen alumni, Hannah said, "We forget that they were just like us. They were us."

lillianme@theblade.com
Twitter @LilyM_E.

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