Veteran’s Day

I have to tell you about an incredibly moving experience I had today. Each year we have a Veteran’s Day program at our school. We invite local Vets to come in for refreshments and a program in which the school honors them for their service to our country. Teachers put pictures of family members who serve on display in the glass case in the front hallway. Students make posters, and other decorative items with which to line the hall. Veterans come. Every year.
One year we honored Jason Harkins, a soldier from our community who lost his life in Iraq. A couple of years some of our own teachers who are Veterans have shared. It is always a day of pride about how fortunate we are to be free. Our students have learned that this assembly is unlike other ones in that it is a serious occasion. They sit for up to an hour, listening and taking in the importance of the event. It is a day of gratefulness to those of you who fought for, or held onto that freedom. Each year it is emotional. This year, however, the connection our students made was remarkable.
The chorus sang. The color guard presented the colors. We said the pledge. We heard the history of the holiday. We watched as a woman in our community, Julie Roach, presented a flag that flew over her post in Iraq to our principal. We listened as Mr. Bishop, a fourth grade teacher at our school, sang the fourth verse of the National Anthem. Up to this point, it was inspirational. It was meaningful.
Then our surprise guest speaker was introduced…live from Iraq via Skype. Trecy Kent, the husband of fifth grade teacher Martha Kent, was projected onto the screen for all to see. Amazing what technology can do. I heard some students gasp when they realized that he was actually in Iraq. They were riveted. At this point, the tears started to flow for those of us who teach with Martha, and they didn’t stop for the rest of the program. Trecy talked about the sacrifice those in the service make for our freedoms. He brought it to a level the kids could relate to when he listed all the milestones and celebrations he had missed over the time he has been in Iraq…all his family’s birthdays, his son’s first time behind the wheel of a car, his son’s first homecoming, his other son’s first scout meeting, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. He shared how Veterans give the government a blank check when they serve, payable to the point of death. He thanked those who were present with us for their service and assured them that their sacrifices are continuing to be carried out by those who are serving now. It was an authentic heartfelt moment. There weren’t too many teachers in the room with dry eyes.
Then his 15-year-old son Page stepped up to the mic. All was hushed as he started to speak to the students about all that he has given up so his dad can serve them. His voice cracked and his tears flowed unashamedly as he shared his love for his dad with us. Now, not only the teachers were crying…the kids were crying too. Whew. What courage on the part of a young man wanting others to understand his pain and his pride. It was an intimate moment, which was a treasure for all those who witnessed it. This family is real. They are here with us, being transparent enough to let us into what it is like for military families all over the country. God bless Martha who sat crying her eyes out watching her son and her husband teach a huge lesson through their lives. This takes the kids into a whole different level of understanding of the meaning of Veteran’s Day. It took even the adults into the world of waiting, and hoping, of praying, and longing that our service men and women and their families face everyday. It was up close and personal. Meaningful does not begin to cover it…moving.
When our principal listed the wars and conflicts of the past and asked the 120 veterans to stand for the ones they had participated in, history came to life. There were Vets from WWII, and every conflict since. Some stood for a long time through many conflicts because they served through many of them. Then the ones who held the country during times of peace were asked to stand. The kids cheered for them all. We heard the meaning of the song Taps and it was beautifully played to end the program. The sixth grade students lined the halls as the Vets exited, cheering and yelling for the heros of the day. Everyone in the room felt the emotion of that program. It was more than a teachable moment. It was a tribute and a celebration of those who serve. Mr. Bishop, the coordinator of the yearly event, did a fabulous job organizing and planning the details, as usual. By the time our students leave our school, they have sat in four such programs. They know the meaning and they respectfully sit each year to give honor to these men and women due to Mr. Bishop’s diligence and care.
Afterwards, I did not feel as if we could go on as usual. In my classes for the rest of the day, we reflected on the experience. The students had much to say about the program in our discussions. They got it. Really got it. We talked about many different parts of the morning, but the one part that EVERY one of them said touched them, was when Page got up and spoke. His tears brought it all home to them as they imagined what it was like to know your dad is in harms way half way around the world. He got to their hearts in a way no adult could. One boy in my class summed it up perfectly when he said, “I will never forget this.”

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