WWII veteran Gerry Hoffman and his wife Cloetta Hoffman attended the Goddard High School Veterans Day Assembly with family Monday after traveling all the way from Seattle. (Amy Vogelsang Photo)
“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
Novelist Cynthia Ozick seemed to sum up everything about Veterans Day in one simple sentence. And as more generations pass, some of the sacrifices may get lost in history books, but they should never be forgotten.
A roar of applause greeted veterans as they were escorted into the Goddard High School auditorium Monday. Men and women from all walks of military life stood, proudly waving or saluting the applause.
Some wiped their eyes, trying to bravely hide the tears. Maybe the emotions were brought on by memories, or perhaps it was merely due to the overwhelming appreciation circling the room.
Outside the door, as veterans entered the high school, a line of American Flags greeted them, the red, white and blue billowing in the afternoon breeze.
Head of the Flag Line was Michael Murphy, the ride captain for the Patriot Guard Riders.
PGR is a group that attends funerals of service men and women, but you don’t have to ride a motorcycle to be involved.
“All you have to do is care and show respect,” Murphy explained. A Vietnam veteran himself, the GHS Veterans Day Assembly was very important to him.
“We got rocks thrown at us (upon returning home),” he said. “But, I’m so proud of these kids here coming out and shaking hands and showing respect to us old guys.”
To him and the other veterans, the day is about keeping the memory of their brothers in arms alive.
“No generation of veterans shall forget another generation of veterans,” Murphy said, quoting a jacket patch.
One veteran who has seen many younger generations come and go is Gerry Hoffman. Celebrating his 94th birthday by attending the assembly, Hoffman served in the Navy during WWII. He and his wife, Cloetta Hoffman, traveled all the way from Seattle to spend this holiday with family.
“(The assembly) shows our love for our country and our love for our men who fought for what we have today,” said Hoffman’s granddaughter, Olivia Stanford. “We need to honor them.”
Hoffman has eight children, five of which joined the Army. One of his sons, Dale Hoffman, was also present at the assembly, and incredibly touched by the ceremony.
Hoffman also has 49 grandchildren, 141 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren — many people remind him every day why he served.
After the procession of veterans, the national anthem played as larger-than-life American flags waved proudly in a spotlight, the rest of the room falling into darkness and silence.
When Assistant Pastor at Grace Community Church Sean Lee sang “God Bless America,” the audience felt chills. More eyes glistened with tears.
Recognizing the multiple conflicts America has been in over the past 50 years, a veteran was honored to represent each conflict.
Although not able to attend, Geraldine Willoughby has represented WWI for years because of her husband’s service. Representing WWII, Hoffman was joined by fighter pilot Cpt. Thomas Carpenter.
Moving on to the Korean War, Robert Meeks took the stage. Serving in the Army, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, among other awards. And a helicopter repairman in the Army, Orlando Padilla represented the Vietnam War.
For the two modern wars, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan, Victor Lara of the Marine Corps and SFC Daniel Munoz Jr. took their places next to their fellow servicemen.
Suddenly, a voice came on over the loud speaker, accompanying a video: “How do you pay tribute to the soldiers who defend us today? Maybe we start by just saying ‘Thank you.’”
The applause from the kids at these words made the point very clear. And the veterans could not express their gratitude for the appreciation felt.
“They are special,” Padilla said of the high school students. “The young people understand more than anyone the price that was paid, and I don’t think they’ll forget.”