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An Ohio teen skipped her prom to help military veterans travel to Washington, D.C. as part of the Honor Flight Columbus program, because she believed in the cause.

But the trip turned out a little differently than she expected, with one veteran in particular going out of his way to give thanks for the girl’s dedication.

Gahanna-Lincoln High School junior Hannah Secrist accompanied Korean War veteran Herb Cunningham and 88 other veterans on a trip to D.C. in late April, and flew back to Columbus on the same day as the prom.

Cunningham learned that Secrist gave up the special night to help with the trip, and decided to take matters into his own hands to show he appreciated the effort.

“At that point, I made an offer to Hannah that since she missed her prom, that later on when we get back to the Columbus airport, we might have our little prom dinner of our own,” Cunningham told WCMH.

Cunningham called his wife and arranged to have her meet them at the airport with a meal, and Secrist later posted pictures of their makeshift prom date on the airport floor that quickly went viral.

There is some debate whether mandatory service projects are as effective as voluntary service. But few question the value of service when there is a meaningful personal cost as is demonstrated in this story. Rural midwest schools tend to place a high value on military service. In these schools, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found that 1 to 7 percent of the student body enlists with the encouragement of teachers and administrators.

“I’m so grateful,” Secrist said. “I’m grateful for what they (veterans) did in the wars for us and to take the time for me was really sweet.”

Honor Flight Columbus teams war veterans with volunteers to take senior vets on no-cost trips to Washington, D.C. to visit monuments, memorials and cemeteries dedicated to military service members. Last September, the organization ushered its 5,000th veteran to D.C. from central Ohio.

Cunningham said he appreciates the program, and he felt it’s important to highlight young people like Secrist who volunteer to help out in such a thoughtful way.

“I think sometimes we have a bit of a negative impression on young people today,” he said. “You see so many things in the news that can be discouraging, but in this particular case there was clear evidence of a right heart and a right spirit and it just was something that I couldn’t pass up, acknowledging and expressing my thanks in a very crazy way for what Hannah was willing to do.”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students will find information, Strategies and lesson plans at the UK's The Jubilee Centre.

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