One of my favorite traditions at All-American Public Schools played out tonight in front of a packed house in the district’s auditorium. Ten years ago, one of our elementary schools began performing a tribute to our nation’s veteran’s. The school’s fourth graders join forces for Veteran’s Day with the high school drama and music departments to create a ceremony that always both brings me to tears and fills me with pride.
While the singing, dancing and informational vignettes are great, it’s the moment when the veterans in the audience receive personal recognition that gets me. Near the end of the program, our ROTC members bring out flags that represent each branch of the armed services. As the children sing the anthem for that branch, the cadets lift the flag high, and all veterans of that branch stand for recognition. Tonight, we had almost one hundred active and retired members of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Marines–ranging from boys I recognized as having graduated from All-American High just a few years ago to grandfathers and great-grandfathers of the students performing.
The cheers and applause from the crowd clearly moved many of those in attendance. It especially strikes me each time I see a veteran of my father’s age–the Vietnam War era soldiers who served bravely but failed to receive the appreciation they deserved for their sacrifices when they returned home. All three of my children performed in this same program as fourth graders. Each time, I invited my father to come and be recognized. Each time, he refused, saying his time for recognition passed once he moved on with his life, back on American soil in late 1968. But I wish I could have seen him standing among his fellow soldiers, listening to a grateful crowd expressing their appreciation.
For now, I’ll have to settle for telling him and all the other veterans I know how much I value their contributions to our country. Happy Veteran’s Day. We wouldn’t be the country we are today without men and women like you.