Hopkinsville came together Thursday morning to celebrate and honor local military veterans for Veterans Day. Two separate events were held across town; one at University Heights Academy and the other at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 1913.

Local veterans, public officials, students and their parents all came together just before lunch Thursday inside the Hopkinsville VFW as the VFW celebrated Veterans Day and presented the winners of the post’s Voice of Democracy and Patriot Pen essays.

The essay contests are held through the VFW each year and asks local students to submit essays and compete for a chance to win a certificate as well as a cash prize. Each student who enters receives a cash prize, however, the first through third winners, win more than the rest.

First place for the Voice of Democracy essay wins $125, while second place earns $75 and third receives $50. All other students earn $20 each.

First place for the Patriot Pen essay earns $100, while second receives $75 and third wins $50. The rest get $20 each.

VFW Post Commander John Brame first presented the first place winners of each essay and allowed them to read their essays aloud to the crowd to honor Veterans Day and its importance.

Brame first presented the winner of the Voice of Democracy contest, Eva Blankenberger of Hopkinsville High School.

Blankenberger’s essay focused on where America had been at the creation of the Constitution compared to where the U.S. is today and that the country had been founded on the principles of being one whole, equally, while today the country is divided.

“The men who wrote the Constitution wanted America to be united as one to work together and to achieve greatness,” she said as she read her essay.

“Currently, the citizens of America battle both mentally and physically with obvious and ulterior motives. The two party system, the inclusion of new cultural preferences and all citizens, despite their ideologies and differences, are what America should return to. This is where America should go.”

Brame then presented the winner of the Patriot Pen essay, Molly Cansler, from Christian County Middle School.

In her essay, Cansler questioned what it means to her to be American outside of the usual things people say, such as brave, proud and free. She shared that she believed that being American is about being patriotic and showing thankfulness for those who have served the country and fought for American freedoms.

“If people fought for my freedom, then isn’t my responsibility to keep it and show my thankfulness through my actions and not just on the holidays,” Cansler said.

“Thankfulness is also another big piece of being American. Yes, I appreciate and thank veterans for all their sacrifices, but I should also show I am thankful through my actions and the way I address people.

“Knowing that we live in the land of the free, we should be welcoming to others that may be coming for the same things our ancestors fought for.”

For the Voice of the Democracy contest, Carly Chaudoin earned second place while Rachel Baker took home third. For the Patriot Pen essay contest, Brandon Reinhart took second place while Taylor Nail earned third place.

Local vets from various branches of the military also gathered in the UHA gym Thursday morning and were greeted with smiles and songs from the academy’s elementary school children.

Each grade of students, first through fifth, honored, thanked and celebrated the community’s veterans by singing them songs, reading them patriotic poems and gifting them hand-crafted poppies.

The local vets and students were also able to listen to a key-note speaker who spoke on the importance of military members and veterans’ sacrifices to serve the country in order to preserve every American’s freedoms.

UHA introduced Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army Kelli Pendleton, who first asked the students how many of them had parents that are currently serving or had served in the military. Roughly half of the students raised their hands.

Pendleton then asked how many of them had other family members who have served or knew of anyone who had served. Almost all of the students raised their hands.

“We live in a great community full of amazing veterans and our military,” Pendleton said as the students held their hands high.

Pendleton then shared with the children the history of Veterans Day and its transition from originally being Armistice Day to eventually becoming Veterans Day to celebrate and honor all veterans who have served in any conflict.

Pendleton then took the opportunity to directly thank the veterans in attendance for their service and their sacrifices.

“We have a lot of veterans with us today, so to our veterans: Thank you, thank you, we cannot thank you enough, you and all those who have worn the uniform,” she said.

“We want you to know from the bottom of our hearts that we appreciate all of you, regardless of which branch you served or which era or conflict.”

Pendleton also encouraged every student to thank a veteran or active duty soldier every time they see one, not just on Veterans Day.

“Not just today, but every day, because we are blessed and you walk among America’s greatest and you walk among heroes,” Pendleton said to the students.

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