Local Elementaries Pay Tribute to Veterans
By Julie Slama
Murray - Second grader Ireland Romney and her first-grade sister, Leighton, held a photograph of their father in front of Viewmont Elementary’s student body and invited guests Nov. 11 as part of the school’s 5th annual Veterans Day program. Their dad is in the Army, currently in training, but in January 2016 he will be deployed to Iraq.
Viewmont was one of several Murray schools that invited veterans to a Veterans Day program, dotting the program with songs, poems and words of thanks.
Ireland read a poem that she wrote, outlining that veterans are respectful and tender-hearted, and everyone should thank and honor them and never forget their service.
“My dad will be back in 10 days, and then we can play our favorite game where he wraps me in a blanket and swings me,” she said on Nov. 12.
Each Viewmont student wrote a poem, and sixth grader Luke Johnson also shared his with the audience. The poems were then presented to about 20 attending veterans, and the rest were to be delivered to the Veterans Administration Hospital. All of them were signed by several students.
“We wanted the children in this generation to know who veterans are and the sacrifices they made to protect their freedoms, safety and rights,” librarian Monic Nevenner, who coordinated the program, said. “We want the students to thank them for their service and not take their freedom for granted.”
The program also featured a local Boy Scout troop presenting the flag, inviting veterans up on stage as their military branch was announced, the singing of “Thank You Soldiers” by the student body, former Viewmont student and Boy Scout Gabe Velerde playing “Taps” on the trumpet, and a moment of silence.
Veterans could also mark on a map where they served and see a display of Viewmont students’ family photos of those who have served or are currently serving.
At Woodstock Elementary’s Veterans Day program on Nov. 10, a small table stood in the front of the school’s multi-purpose room to honor veterans missing in action or taken as prisoners of war. Students recited the symbolic meanings behind each item they placed on the table: a white tablecloth to honor soldiers’ hearts, a black napkin for the sorrow of captivity, a glass turned over for a meal that they wouldn’t eat, salt as families’ tears wait for loved ones to return, a candle to light their way and a rose in hopes that the missing will return.
Murray resident Betty Hawkes was at the program with her friend Auston Johnson to see her great-grandson, Braxton Hawkes, and his sixth-grade classmates sing songs such as “Freedom Isn’t Free,” “Thank You Military” and “This is America.” Ten girls also sang “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and sixth grader Daelee Peterson played “Over There” on piano.
Braxton’s great-grandfather was a prisoner of war for three years in Japan and was part of the Bataan Death March, which forced prisoners on a three-month march, where they were often beaten and mistreated and given little food or water, in the Philllippines during World War II.
“We had 54 years of marriage,” Hawkes said, adding that her husband would have been proud of Braxton.
Her friend, Johnson, began his service the Monday after he graduated from Murray High on a Friday in 1943. He served in navigation on an aircraft carrier for three years during World War II.
Throughout the program, students shared their stories about relatives who had served or are currently serving. Terron Hancock shared about Uncle Steve, who as a Marine sergeant served a 10-month tour in Iraq and had told him, “We are all leaders in our own way, brothers in arms: united we stand, divided we fall.”
Samantha Miller shared about her grandfather who never was thanked while serving as an Army sergeant in Vietnam, an unpopular war in America. When solders returned, many didn’t honor their service and sacrifices.
Nathan Kasteler told the story that U.S. senator and astronaut Jake Garn served as a co-pilot along with his grandfather in the Air Force, and that his grandfather, who was born on July 4, was nicknamed by his parents and their siblings as their “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Kayley Olson’s grandfather had a lot to be thankful for when he missed a flight with his company to be deployed to battle. The aircraft carrier crashed, and if he wouldn’t have overslept, he would have been killed as well, she said.
Sixth-grade teacher Lee Ann Crockett, who along with Diane Spransy coordinated the 13th annual program, said they spend time talking, reading and writing about veterans and wars, the reasons for them, as well as the outcomes and the causes.
“These students are fascinated by all of these things, I think because they haven’t studied them before,” she said. “As much as I love the music and the program, my favorite part of this whole project is when the kids interview their veterans and write an essay. Each child does this, and they are always surprised at the information they find. They talk about getting to know their relatives better, and they get a glimpse into the past of someone they thought they knew and find surprising things.”
McMillan Elementary fourth grader Erika Eubanks shared her essay about how her father is her hero, and the way her family has moved and sacrificed for his service to the country. Her dad, dressed in his full Army uniform, listened along with others who made up the school’s audience at its Veterans Day program on Nov. 11.
Five other students — Joshua Bennaly, Sebastian Mendez, Hailey Peterson, Esteban Soria and Tanya Yu — also shared their winning essays from a Parent-Teacher Association contest on “America’s Heroes.” Veterans also could see the display of serviceman Devon Simper’s state flag collection.
During the program, directed by PTA president Becca Westenskow, sixth grader Kanoa Deollos began singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and was slowly joined by veterans, and then the entire audience.
Each grade sang patriotic tunes, taught by school music director Emily Jacobs and accompanied by pianist Emily McKellar, and included songs such as “This Land is Your Land,” “America,” “America the Beautiful,” and songs from each branch of the military service, where veterans stood and waved when their branch’s song was sung.
“It was very heart-warming to hear the veterans join in with the singing of each military song,” fifth-grade teacher Julianne Curtis said.
The program ended with the school choir, under the direction of Cathy Price, singing “God Bless the USA” and “Thank You Military.”