When Lt. Col. Win Harper of Middlesex was a boy, he considered Superman a hero, along with his father and his teachers.
“I have a secret,” he told a packed auditorium Thursday at Canandaigua Primary-Elementary School, while pulling up his pant leg. “I have my Superman socks on,” he said holding up his leg for the fourth and fifth-graders to see.
His gesture brought laughter from the children, their teachers and administrators attending the annual Veterans Appreciation Day.
Harper was introduced by Greg Kane, a high school music teacher who conducted the Canandaigua Academy Wind Ensemble in several appropriate selections, including “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Which Way America,” and “America the Beautiful.”
He told the children Harper joined the Marine Corps in 1966, right after graduation from Rutgers University and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 68, returning in 1972 when he served as a fire support coordinator in the 33rd Marine Amphibious Unit.
Kane said Harper, now a life and leadership coach, was decorated with the Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal with Combat V and a Combat Action Ribbon.
In honor of the veterans, the ensemble played “Each Time You Tell Their Story,” during which Andy Thomas, community relations specialist, read a poem by Dr. Samuel J. Hazo.
“That was tremendous,” Harper told the musicians. “It was a magnificent performance. We’re honored to have this occur and we’re honored to find out this is what you’re taught in your schools. It’s very important to us to know that generation after generation will continue to respect our country, respect our flag and respect our way of life.”
He joked with the kids that when he was a fourth and fifth-grader back in 1954 and 55, there were no dinosaurs walking the land, but there also were no computers, cell phones and what few televisions there were were about the size of a small laptop with three stations, all in black and white.
He said his family would sit around in the evenings watching TV and it was his responsibility as the youngest, to get up and change the channel.
“You had to walk to the TV set and actually turn a dial,” Harper said, noting he and his sister would watch cartoons and cowboy shows on Saturday mornings, but that his favorite was “Superman” who, as the show touted, was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
“I wanted to be that and that’s why I wear my socks today,” Harper said. “Superman was my hero.”
He said when he was in second grade, his mother would safety pin a red towel around his neck — like Superman’s cape — and he would wear it under his shirt to school, “just in case he would need it later on.”
Harper said Superman fought crime and helped people and he later realized he also “stood for truth, justice and the American way,” something inherit in the nation’s documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
He said his father, a World War II veteran, was also his hero and his inspiration for joining the Marines where he and other servicemen in all military branches took an oath — a promise to the American people — to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, a commitment he said all veterans still honor.
“We stand when we see the American flag marching by us,” Harper said. “We stand and face the flag and sing the words of our national anthem. We stand with a hand across our heart when we say the Pledge of Allegiance. We stand when taps is played and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”
He told the children someday they will be on stage, maybe talking about a cure they developed for cancer, becoming a great performer, their military career or their families and how proud they are of their children “and just maybe, one of you will be wearing your Superman socks.”
Canandaigua City School Superintendent Jamie Farr talked about the meaning of Veterans Day, based on the agreement — or armistice — reached at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month to stop the fighting in World War I.
He said President Woodrow Wilson made Armistice Day a national holiday “to honor the end of a very difficult and tragic war” and many years later — in 1954 — President Dwight Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day to honor all military veterans, not just those who served in World War I.
Speaking to several veterans, filling the first couple of rows in the auditorium, Farr extended “a heartfelt thank you” to all military members and veterans in attendance “for their service, dedication and sacrifice.”
He challenged the students to thank veterans for their risks and sacrifices, keeping Americans safe.
“They did this to protect our country,” he said. “How incredibly selfless of them to do this. Their work is honorable, noble and inspirational.”
Elementary School Principal Martha End opened the program, welcoming the veterans and thanking them for their service. She and Kane also recognized teacher Brandon Herod “for going above and beyond” in preparing for the event.
© 2017 Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.
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