LAUREL HILL — Nearly 120 elementary school kids stood and applauded as 13 American war veterans processed into the Laurel Hill School auditorium for the annual Veterans Day Celebration. Soon the kids were interacting with the veterans and learning their stories face-to-face.


LAUREL HILL — Nearly 120 elementary school kids stood and applauded as 13 American war veterans processed into the Laurel Hill School auditorium for the annual Veterans Day Celebration. The service members ranged from World War II heroes from “the greatest generation” to a Navy reservist still serving.



“They have served our country; they have protected our freedoms,” Principal Susan Lowery-Sexton said. “We are so honored to have them with us today.”



Lowery-Sexton’s father, World War II veteran James Cook, showed ribbons and medals he earned during the conflict. He shared vivid descriptions of digging foxholes, going weeks without a shower and eating military field rations.



Navy reservist Capt. Bonnie Halderson-Ritter described her role as a medic on a hospital ship to an eager group of students.



“We help our soldiers who have been wounded on the battlefield,” the 24-year veteran said. “It’s an honor to go out to a hospital ship and provide care to our troops.”



“When I was young, they didn’t have anything like this to share with the kids,” Bill Brown, the Crestview VFW post’s former commander, said. “I had my dad’s stories, though. Dad was in the Navy (in World War II). They shot down 200 Kamikazes from their ship.”



Students, particularly participants, showed respect for military sacrifice with symbolic gestures.



In a solemn moment, Pvt. Bailee Joy, a 12-year-old member of the Crestview Young Marines and Laurel Hill School sixth-grader, presented a service member’s hat at the lone place setting at the POW/MIA "White Table." After carefully turning the goblet upside down to indicate the missing service members would not drink with comrades at the event, she stepped back and saluted.



Bailee said the ceremony gave her a sense of pride.



“It was kind of like, when you’re done, you feel the patriotism and are proud of your country,” she said.



Sixth-grader Brandon Christensen said he enjoyed discussing aircraft, one of his interests, with retired Air Force Maj. Bryan Hooper.



“He told us about some of the big warships he was on and the planes,” Brandon said. “He said he went Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) in an F15. It was cool.”



High school students in Lena Steele’s leadership class helped organize the event, at which senior Garrett Alford served as master of ceremonies.



“It is just an honor,” Garrett said. “I was glad to do it. I love hearing (veterans’) stories and I appreciate everything they have done for us.”



Hearing veterans’ accounts should help students understand material they learn in history classes, Brown said.



It was a lesson junior William Rorech takes to heart.



“I think it’s an incredible program,” William said. “It’s history. It’s their first-hand experience of that history. It’s not something you read in history books that somebody who found documentation wrote about.



“These people lived it.”