World War II veteran Lowell Hughes, left, and Roberto Chavez, a Vietnam-era vet, salute the presentation of colors during Roswell High School’s Veterans Day assembly, Thursday morning. (Mark Wilson Photo)
An Army helmet rests silently upon a black machine gun. From the gun hangs a pair of dog tags, swinging above an empty pair of boots.
This isn’t just a picturesque cliché. There is a reason this visual has been made into statues, pins and drawings. It signifies the loss of someone’s mother, son or friend. It’s the mark of a fallen soldier.
“Army… Marines… Navy… Air Force… Coast Guard.” Veterans stood as their military branch was announced. “The Caisson Song,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder” and “Semper Paratus” — these songs echoed around Roswell High School’s auditorium, each specific to a branch of the Armed Forces.
“I don’t have the vocabulary to put together a thank you to our veterans,” said RHS Principal Ruben Bolaños.
Every student, faculty member and attendee of the Veterans Day Assembly held at RHS Thursday morning mirrored Bolaños’ gratitude.
As Veterans Day draws near, the community is reminded of the sacrifices many men and women have made.
“One of the great things is that these people went and served not only for their families,” Bolaños said.
“They were somebody’s loved one, and yet, they helped serve and helped better the world, whether they agreed with it or not.”
To him, the assembly is just a “minute way to say thank you.”
Between the RHS’ Parent Action Committee and the RHS student council, the assembly came together for the third time. A new component, a meet and greet before the assembly, was made complete with breakfast provided by students in the Pro-Start advanced culinary class.
As the veterans waited to be escorted to the auditorium, they swapped stories. Everyone has a unique tale from his or her serving experience.
Carlos Flores served in Company A 504 MP Battalion in Vietnam in 1965. During his two drafted years in the Army, he spent three and a half months in Vietnam with the military police. He helped direct traffic, escort convoys and patrolled the highway from Cam Rahn Bay to Nha Trang.
But his is just one story.
Korea, Vietnam, Iraq: veterans from every conflict in the last 50 years were in attendance. Three of the men even served in WWII.
One such man is Douglas Weaver. Drafted at 19, Weaver landed on Utah Beach as part of the D-Day invasion. He marched across France and Belgium, meeting up with the Russians in Germany. He was there when the war in Europe finally ended.
But besides telling his own story, Weaver likes to listen to the stories of his fellow veterans.
“You can tell when a guy’s been there,” he explained. “He has that look on his face.” He said it’s the veterans who know what’s going on; they are the ones who know about life. “They’ve been there and back.”
The men and women were still sharing stories as they took their seats in the auditorium. Bolaños made opening remarks, and then guest speaker Lt. Col. Jim Engelhard took the stage.
“Legacy is passed on to you,” he told the students. “You have to carry that on … you’re the result of the sacrifices (these veterans) made … without sacrifice, nothing — nothing — has any real value.”
Then, when one of the Veterans Essay Contest winners, Reyes Gallegos, read his poem, the audience began to get emotional.
Eyes filled with tears as a tribute video showed men and women fighting for their country. Words flashed upon the screen: “What do you call a man who leaves all he ever knew to protect people he doesn’t know?” … “What do you call a person who has laid down his life for the freedom of friends, family and strangers?” … What do you call a veteran? You call him a hero.”
Finally, any eyes left dry were tested one more time as RHS band director Greg Odom and RHS student Kyler Byrd played “Taps.”
It was a day of remembrance and thanks. Bolaños summed it up by quoting some RHS students: “Whether it’s 1,000 veterans or just one, they put their life on the line for our country.”