By Ted Waddell
ROSCOE December 21, 2001 An old soldier almost cried the other day.
Joseph Meola is a life member of the American Legion and for the past six years has served his community as commander of American Legion Floyd Keener Post #315 of Roscoe.
Meola answered his nations call to arms during the Korean War from 1952-55 as a U.S. Marine assigned to the corps Air Wing. He left the service as a buck sergeant after serving in Korea, Cuba and all over the place.
On Monday afternoon, the proud vet used a couple of crutches to make his way painfully into the Roscoe Central School auditorium for what he thought would be a proud moment, as three high school students were scheduled to represent their school and county during the first round of the American Legions 65th Annual NYS High School Oratorical Contest.
Upon arriving, Meola was devastated to learn that two of the three contestants had suddenly dropped out of the patriotic competition, reportedly saying they were too busy to address their peers about the meaning of the United States Constitution.
Its not good, was his reaction to the news. After September 11th and the conflict against terrorism . . . I thought this would bring them out.
[Students] should always be patriotic, but it seemed to have died before the 11th of September, added Meola. I guess it takes a disaster to bring out patriotism.
Referring to the war in Afghanistan, Meola said, We may be losing some of our rights because of this. . . . Youd think they [the students] might be more interested in the Constitution.
Fred Ahart opened the contest by remembering those who died and suffered in the terrorist attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, the rescue workers and our personnel overseas.
After the audience of about 180 7th-12th graders and faculty recited the Pledge of Allegiance, 17-year-old junior Charles Lonnie Buchholz ascended the stage to talk about the U.S. Constitution and certain important Amendments.
The way our forefathers set up the Constitution was brilliant, said Buchholz. It protects the rights of all citizens and is flexible so that it can be changed with the aging of time. . . One of the greatest things is that it allows room for protest, to change the government according to the peoples needs.
In addressing the controversial 2nd Amendment (commonly interpreted as the right of citizens to bear arms), he said, I feel this right should not be infringed. However, the recent school shootings were outrageous. So in that light, I feel that gun sales and laws should be strictly enforced to ensure the public safety.
Buchholz comes from patriotic stock: his father Charles Joseph Buchholz, served during the Vietnam War and is currenty Sullivan County Commander of the American Legion, while his grandfather Wally was captured by the Germans in WWII while serving (1943-45) as an infantry machine gunner with the Blood and Fire 131st Division.
They were the first ones to smash through the Ziegfried Line, said Lonnie Buchholz. He was captured in northern Paris, and they marched him into Germany, where he managed to escape.
Lonnie Buchholz will be officially enrolled next year at RCS but will be attending classes at Sullivan County Community College.
I knew a lot of the faces I was taking to, so it wasnt too ungodly bad, he said after the competition. I tried to keep my cool.
The contest winner said he plans to study avionics and electrical engineering and perhaps join the U.S. Air Force. Buchholz was awarded a $250 U.S Savings Bond by the panel of judges: Lori Bertsch, Norm DeCotes and Patricia Yelle. The timers were RCS social studies teachers Ed Helbig and Matt Slocum.
The stated purpose of the American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest is to develop knowledge and appreciation of the Constitution of the United States on the part of high school students. Other objectives of the contest include the development of leadership, the ability to think and speak clearly and intelligently, and the preparation for acceptance of the duties and responsibilities, the rights and privileges of American citizenship.
The contest gives the kids a chance to learn a little bit more about the Constitution of the United States, said Meola.
George Will is the superintendent at Roscoe.
I think public speaking is an important part of the development of all adults, and we need to be able to express ourselves through the spoken word, he said.
Roscoe is the only school in the county to maintain this program, added Will. Even though we only had one student involved, at least we had one who really cared about the Constitution of this country.