The crowd that gathered in Shaler Area Middle School's cafeteria spanned multiple generations and represented at least five American wars.
On Wednesday morning, the school played host to about 500 veterans for breakfast with members of its student council reverently serving up coffee, eggs and gratitude in the school cafeteria.
Some veterans donned their pressed dress blues, others American Legion jackets in shiny silk, others berets and ball caps embroidered with the names of the battles they've survived. And around them, members of the school's student council scurried around to fetch them coffee and eggs.
Jeannine Vittorino, a reading teacher, said the breakfast is part service, part lesson, honoring veterans for their service but also giving students a flesh-and-blood history lesson about the wars they may be studying in class.
"It's to better educate students about the contributions of our veterans," she said.
Jake Bartosh, 13, of Reserve is a vice president of the seventh-grade class. He said one veteran taught him about the rigors of boot camp. Although there were no veterans of the war he's currently studying -- the French and Indian War -- he said "learning about [war] from these people instead of reading about it in a book ... it does make it more interesting."
Kelly McBurney, 14, of Shaler said speaking with the veterans gave her a deeper sense of appreciation for what they had done and sacrificed.
"I learned that all of these people fought for what they believed in," she said, "and they fought for us."
The breakfast included a quilt ceremony where a local organization distributed quilts to the three dozen or so World War II veterans who attended the breakfast.
Mike Michalek, who served with the Navy from 1970 to 1992 including in the Vietnam War, said he faced harassment when he returned home from Vietnam and was so troubled that he never wore his uniform. In the 1980s, he lost both legs to an infection while stationed in Guam and is now in a wheelchair. His nephew, a middle schooler, invited him to the breakfast.
But events like this remind him that people's attitudes toward veterans have changed.
"People now know what we did for our country, and people respect us," he said.
As he wheeled himself to the end of the middle school's hallway through a gantlet of students, many turned and stared. But as he stopped at the end of the hallway, a student nervously approached him, tightly clutching a binder.
"Excuse me, sir?" the girl said. "Thank you for serving our country."education - neigh_north
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.