By Steve Robinson | November 12, 2019 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Normal Community West High School’s effort to honor those who have served in the military on Veterans Day reached a milestone Monday. The program, which Bierbaum proposed students engage in to not only honor the men and women who served while learning a little something about the day America sets aside to remember those who have served and those who never made it home marked its fifth year at this program.

The former servicemen were treated to a spaghetti dinner from Avanti’s with all the trimmings, desserts, and entertainment provided by two of the schools musical groups, Normal West Jazz Voices and Colla Voice which means “With The Voice.” The groups sang while the former servicemen and servicewomen had dinner. Sara Williams, director of choirs at Normal West oversaw the music and singers provided.

The snowy and slick weather provided an obstacle for some to get to the ceremony, as between 100-150 people, those who served and their families, were expected to attend. But despite the inclement conditions, and much like when their country asked them to serve, that number or close to it did show for the honor, and to see students demonstrate what they have learned about and from those who served.

One of those who served and said was Butch Ekstam, a graduate of Bloomington Central Catholic High School. After graduating from BCC in 1965, and enlisted in the U. S. Air Force in 1966. When he enlisted, he was attending what was known then at Lincoln Junior College and working at State Farm in their Administrative Services Division. When he wasn’t working, he was “beating the skins” as a drummer with a local band called The Sattertones from 1961-1966.

Ekstam’s time in the service lasted from his enlistment until his being honorably discharged in 1970. It began at basic training at Lackland AFB in in San Antonio, training of F-4 Phantom Jets. “They were pretty popular at the time,” he said. He married his high school sweetheart and was then stationed in England, and then got orders to transfer to Homestead AFB in Florida, working as a weapons mechanic. “I had four years active and two years inactive,” he admitted of his time in uniform.

Of the event honoring the soldiers which Bierbaum and his students orchestrated, Ekstam seemed to appreciate it, especially since he was a member of the honor guard which opened up the event during a formal ceremony, saying, “These kids get it, but the teachers better be paying attention to the history. The kids need a little background on what has happened in history,” he said, adding that in order for the students to understand what has taken place militarily in our history, the teachers need a refresher on the subject themselves.

Members of two American Legion Posts, including Normal-based Post 635 and Bloomington-based Post 56 provided an education on this nation’s military, and honored all five branches – U. S. Army, U. S. Navy, U. S. Coast Guard, U. S. Marines Corps, and U. S. Air Force – to begin the evening’s event, including a demonstration on how to properly fold an American flag.

Ekstam’s family military history stretches back to his grandfather, Carl H. Ekstam, Sr., who served in France in World War I. Ekstam’s father, Carl Jr., was a member of the 1874th Corps of Engineers in the Philippines helping maintain runways and get cities started in order for the military to operate in World War II, from 1944-45. Ekstam’s uncle, Francis G. Moews died in that same war shortly before it ended in 1945. Ekstam’s son, Joseph, was a sergeant in the U. S. Army who served from 1988-2000. He was in the 1st Cavalry Infantry Mechanized Unit. He served tours in Germany, Korea, Bosnia, and a number of bases in the States including Fort Hood and Fort Benning. Joseph died while living near Fort Benning on Oct. 25, 2000. He was riding his Harley when he was struck and killed by a truck.

Of the Normal West students’ efforts, which included homemade cards on the table from students from Hudson Elementary School, thanking the former soldiers for their service, Ekstam said, “These kids taking part in this are interested in the subject. They are showing appreciation here tonight. That’s a good feeling. But they also need to get that from the parents. I don’t think the parents emphasize what the military’s all about.” He said there needs to be more respect for people, he added. He said he believes that’s been lost over the years.

Normal West Social Studies teacher John Bierbaum admitted he “had a small army” of his own – 45 students at the most — helping make the dinner a success, including members of the school’s Future Farmers of America, Social Studies Club, and the school’s Art Department pitching in to help. “We had a lot of kids pitching in to set up and with decorations. “It really was a team effort.”

Bierbaum also addressed Ekstam’s concerns, saying, “I just think kids these days are so active in their communities and what’s going on around them that they are raising the bar for everybody. They want to be more engaged in the community, they want to be more engaged in political issues, and I think they are raising the bar for what they want their teachers to be doing in the classroom, which is a good thing.”

The cards from students in Jennifer Holder’s first grade, Clinton Carden’s third grade, Kim Stille’s third grade, and Lynette Bixby’s fifth grade classes could be seen at every table displaying their gratitude for what the soldiers had done during their time in the service of their country.

This event, which reached a milestone making it to a fifth year, seems to have struck a right cord with everybody from the teachers and the vets who want to impart what they believe the kids need to know to be good citizens to the vets who simply came in and were honored by kids who are learning of the sacrifices made by our troops to protect our freedoms. For the vets, the kids, and all of us, this event can be counted as a victory for all of us.

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