Michael Murphy of the Patriot Guard shakes hands with students at Pecos Elementary, Friday morning. Mark Wilson Photo
Jack Fox and several other members of the Veterans Motorcycle Riders pulled up to Pecos Elementary School on their motorcycles toting large American flags and were greeted by about 430 beaming faces all excited to greet them: A drastic contrast to the reception he received upon returning from Vietnam decades ago.
He served in the Navy for three years and did three tours from 1965-67. He said coming back to the states wasn’t easy.
“We got spat on, called names,” he said. “It was hard to adjust because people would look at you. When we got home, we immediately changed into civilian clothes at the airports because we didn’t want people hollering at us and calling us names.”
The kindergarten through fifth-graders made sure the vets felt highly respected Friday as they lined up around the bus lane and encircled the veterans. They held banners and posters, waved mini American flags all while wearing red, white and blue clothing. The students then sang “America,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America.” The veterans then walked around and shook each child’s hand. Many of the youngsters thanked them for their service before loudly chanting “U.S.A.” For Fox, the chance to interact with the kids and see that they understood the sacrifices he and other soldiers have made, meant a lot.
“It’s wonderful seeing the kids and they’re learning to support the troops and honor them. I was just glad to see the smiles on their faces and a couple of them had pictures of their dads who are in the service,” he said. “They understand what we went through and what other families are going through now. They have to know and remember the people that are helping to provide them with the safety for their country and their opportunity to grow.”
Principal Debbie Ryan said there was method to the way the ceremony was held.
“We wanted to do something a little bit more personal,” she said. “I want my students to understand what a veteran is. When we try to explain that to them, they don’t understand it, but to have a veteran come and shake their hand gives them a different meaning.”
She added that “solider” is no longer just a term to them, they understand it is a living, breathing person who fought in war for their freedom.
In classroom, discussions took place explaining what Veterans Day is about and just how important it is to honor those who serve. She noted that the lessons coupled with the actual meeting of veterans really helped kids understand the gravity of Veterans Day.