The student body of Old Richmond Elementary School in Tobaccoville became a flag waving chorus on Friday during a special Veterans Day program.
For over a decade, the school has saluted the men and women who serve and have served in the Armed Forces during an assembly the Friday before the federal Veterans Day holiday, when local schools are closed. Principal Brian Brookshire told his 450 students – who were seated on the floor of the school’s auditorium for last week’s program – that Veterans Day is far more than just another day off from school.
“Today is, of course, a celebration,” said Brookshire. “It’s a day in which we honor our veterans for their dedicated and loyal service to this great country. We appreciate the sacrifices and the commitment that you made to keep this country safe. It’s an opportunity to say, ‘thank you.’”
As part of the annual tradition, veterans from American Legion Post 290 in King take part in the program, posting the colors, leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance and performing “Taps” to close the program. In between all that, the vets sat up front and listened as students, led by music teacher Cathy Moore, sang the national anthem and other patriotic songs.
“You see why we like to come out here?” said Post 290 Assistant Chaplain Don Adams. “It’s ’cause of you kids.”
The students heard from 1st Sgt. Kenneth Thompson, who served in the Air Force in the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron based at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. Before he retired in 2010, Thompson had seen action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke about how veterans have made sacrifices for their country for as long as the United States of America has existed.
“Since 1776, no generation of Americans has been spared the obligation of protecting freedom,” said Thompson. “…Our veterans embody the choices of our nation to protect liberty and freedom. They have protected those rights all over the world. They have endured hardships that many of us couldn’t imagine so we could all enjoy freedom.”
Students had a few things to say too. The recorded voices of students played as a slide show was shown depicting the service of local veterans. The presentation was gleaned from reports students were assigned. Some of the students chose to profile veterans in their own families or other people they know.
Thomas DeLoach did his report on his neighbor, John Whitley, a Navy veteran who served as a chef on a destroyer escort in the Pacific during World War II. Thomas said the project gave him a greater appreciation of veterans.
“They help our country have freedom, and they protect our country,” he said.
The program ended with two musical numbers. For the first, groups of students performed the official songs for each branch of Armed Forces. When they sang “Anchors Aweigh,” the Navy vets in the crowd stood; Thompson and other Air Force vets rose as they sang the famous opening line of the “Air Force Song:” “Off we go into the wild blue yonder.” Arrmy and Marine vets also rose when their themes were performed.
The final number began with two first graders, Eryn Johnson and Grayson Bacon, singing “God Bless America.” Suddenly during the song the entire school, led by Moore, joined in, with each of the students in the crowd waving a small American flag that they had been patiently holding the entire time.
Adams told the students that he and his fellow veterans were touched by all that they’d seen.
“I don’t care who you are, If that didn’t move you, you can’t be moved,” said Adams.
Old Richmond, which was founded in 1896 in a two room schoolhouse that still stands on its campus, involves its students in a number of community-minded activities throughout the year. The school has recycling initiatives and holds a Science Night to raise money for the Humane Society. It is also a 2011-2012 School of Distinction, meaning 80 percent or more of its students are performing at or above grade level.