More than 50 veterans and their families received an outpouring of love and gratitude Friday afternoon at Rosa Parks Elementary’s Veterans Day luncheon.
Sixth grade students of J. Kristian Brekke started the ball rolling in mid-October. But the whole school, in the Redmond Ridge neighborhood, soon hopped on board, releasing what Brekke accurately described as “an avalanche of patriotism.”
Students created flyers for distribution at retirement communities and local corporations, inviting men and women who had served in any branch of the armed forces, in any capacity, to enjoy a free meal and entertainment.
“This was all student-run,” Brekke noted. The parking lot and halls were festooned with American flags and posters saluting our nation’s heroes. Faculty and families were invited to submit memoirs, military medals and uniforms for display. The Rosa Parks community contributed a full spread of food and beverages for the honored guests.
To create deeper awareness of what veterans had to endure in some of America’s darkest hours, students were assigned wartime photos and asked to write fictional “letters home” from the perspective of the soldiers in the photos. These letters and photos were hung on the wall near the Rosa Parks Commons.
The children wrote with heartwrenching depth and clarity, using words such as, “I’m scared like I’ve never been scared before. … I’m in a plane and we’ve been hit. I’m thinking of you. We’re ready to jump out. … I may never see you again.”
Rosa Parks is a school that consistently incorporates the arts into its curriculum. At the Veterans fete, African drumming by Jesse Hill, Lauren Martini and Nikola Dancejic accompanied a song of welcome. The “Little Buddies” from first grade sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “This Land is Your Land” before presenting red-white-and-blue windsocks to the vets.
Students read poems in tribute to those who lost their lives or limbs in the line of duty, to those who had to take others’ lives to protect our freedom and all who have made sacrifices to keep America strong.
“We are the home of the free, because you are the brave,” said student Isabella Sieger.
A moment of silence commemorated the veterans who could not be part of this celebration.
Vets from the audience took turns expressing their thanks and their pleasure that their service will not be forgotten.
In an poignant close to the luncheon, Rosa Parks principal Jeff Newport, a Vietnam War veteran, showed the crowd a ring that had been given to him by his grandfather who served before him. “The day I left for Vietnam, I put this ring in my mother’s hand,” he tearfully stated.
On the day he safely returned home, he put it back on his hand and has worn it ever since, Newport said.