Whitlow Elementary School was full of guests Friday representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, as students and faculty welcomed those who served with a special ceremony.
For the third year in a row, a Veterans Day event was held on Friday at Whitlow, where students thanked veterans for their service by singing songs, speaking and thanking each veteran in attendance by giving them a cookie.
“To showcase them being student leaders, we wanted a whole student-led ceremony with no administration talking. It was all for the kids recognizing the veterans, then music performance to recognize the fine arts,” said art teacher Carla Mitchell. “We have artwork displayed around the school, so really it was to promote the fine arts at school and celebrate the veterans.”
Mitchell and music teacher Dedra Kirkland have put on the Veterans Day event over the last three years and said it was an important way to connect students with those who served in the community.
“[It’s] allowing them to learn about recognizing the veterans,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said some students had no idea what a veteran is and said at one point she had a student say “Oh, that’s who takes care of animals.”
“They had no clue what a veteran was, and that’s hurtful because they’re not taught that, so that’s kind of why we promoted this,” she said.
Along with songs and speeches, students were able to ask the event’s keynote speaker, retired Army Ranger Josh Horne, who gave his story and a history of the Rangers.
Horne spoke about his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, what it’s like to be in a tank and what it means to be a member of the armed forces.
“Being a U.S. soldier, just like anything else in life, there’s a lot of fun and a lot of pain that can come with it too when it comes to training,” Horne said. “It’s very rewarding when you go out and maybe travel to different countries and do things there and help people there, along with, like in school, when you do something tough and are able to complete it, excel at it, that’s also very rewarding as well.”
Also in attendance were veteran parents, grandparents and other family members of students and faculty, many of whom wore hats or shirts of their military branch, and after the ceremony, the veterans and their families attended a small reception at the school.
Principal Lynne Castleberry, whose daughter and son-in-law are veterans, said the day was one of her favorite of the year and a good chance for students to have a real interaction with members of the military, rather than what they might see in the media.
“Their idea of the military is what you see on the television or what you see in a video game, and it’s not real and not real people,” she said. “But, when they interact they know, ‘That’s grandpa. My grandpa did something special,’ that these are real people that did incredible things, and it’s important that they know.”