STONINGTON — A group of student leaders at Stonington High School served dinner to a group of storied veterans last week, and all shared in the opportunity to learn from each other.
“The best part of the night is hearing their stories,” said Hannah Eisenbeis, a 16-year-old junior who took part in her third Fall Feast for Veterans, “and seeing and hearing their appreciation. I had a man come up to me and thank me for taking time to do this.
“I was touched,” she said. “They took all this time to serve our country, and they’re thanking me for being here for one night.”
The annual dinner for veterans, prepared by the school’s kitchen staff, is as much an institution in the community as its host, Stonington High’s Student Government, is to its school.
Members of student government organize and serve veterans a Thanksgiving-style dinner in the high school commons every year around Veterans Day.
“I’ve been to eight or nine of them,” said George Sylvestre, an Army veteran, retired Director of Administrative Services for the town, and resident of Old Mystic. “They’re kind enough to do this for us, and we hope we can give them a history lesson. We want to share with them because they are the future.”
During his keynote address prior to dinner, Navy Captain Sam Geiger stressed the importance of events like Fall Feast for Veterans, where a connection is made and kept between generations.
“We miss the opportunity to learn from our successes and failures from the past when we don’t have these connections,” Geiger said. “This event gives these veterans the opportunity to share from their lives, and the kids share something from their lives. The veterans can appreciate what they’re hearing and the kids can appreciate the sacrifices that were made.”
For more than 19 years, the dinner has drawn crowds, including about 100 who dined last week. Both Kyle Gillick and Ethan Schroeder, seniors who organized this year’s event, grew up knowing about Fall Feast for Veterans. Each had siblings who served in student government.
“It’s one of the most important and special events we have because it’s the only one that reaches outside of school and into the community,” Gillick, 17, said. “It’s a way to honor people who made our world safe.”
Added Schroeder, 17: “Dinner time is the best part. It’s the time you get to serve them and talk with them. You hear about their bravery and see their pride.”
Navy veteran Phillip Jeckel, who lives in Mystic, said connections were made Thursday night.
“I appreciate them for recognizing the military,” Jeckel said. “I believe the youth today are understanding the service, and what it means. The more they see it, the more they’re around those who have served, the more they understand.”
Jeckel’s older brother, Navy veteran Carl Jeckel, agreed.
“This is the second [Fall Feast] I’ve been to,” he said. “I’m 83 years old, and I’ve been recognized for my service more in the past two years than I ever have in my life.”