In a touching tribute to American military personnel, Virginia Run Elementary held a special Veterans Day ceremony last Friday, Nov. 10.
"TODAY IS a very special day to remember all the men and women who have served or are serving in the U.S. military," said Principal Deborah Miller to students, parents and teachers gathered in front of the school.
"I know it's also meaningful to some of you because you have parents serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines," she continued. "You're very proud of them, and it's hard for you when they're away. I know firsthand because my dad was in the Air Force when I was growing up."
Miller noted, as well, that they were also honoring "the men and women who left America's shores [to fight abroad], but did not live to be honored as veterans."
Webelos Scout Pack 321, under leader Rick Hannah, raised the flag, and members of Junior Girl Scout Troop 3663, under leader Kellie Peterson, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Then Kelly Butler-Noel, one of Bull Run's music teachers, sang a stirring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and other patriotic songs.
Scouts presented veterans and other guests with small, American flags. Then Army veteran Dennis Heins — whose wife Jodi teaches the GT program at Bull Run — read a letter to the students from his son, Maj. Todd Heins, stationed in Iraq.
Todd, 32, served four years with the 82nd Airborne Division and is now in Virginia's Army National Guard. He's in the 2/224th battalion, commanding a Blackhawk helicopter company at Al Taqqudaum Air Base outside Fallujah, west of Baghdad.
And as his proud father read his Veterans Day message, tears filled his eyes and his voice was choked with emotion. Maj. Heins wrote how honored he felt to be counted among the millions who have served in this nation's military — in the Continental Army, during the Civil War and in both world wars as "soldiers left their homes to fight for a future free of tyranny and oppression."
HE WROTE how privileged he felt to be numbered among those who served in Korea and Vietnam, as well as those who saw duty in peace time to deter those "who would again so willingly steal the freedom of so many individuals and families."
Now that Maj. Heins is a veteran of both peace and war, he wrote, "I understand some small measure of what enormous sacrifices the veterans of our noble nation have borne, not only for the benefit of our nation, but for the benefit of the world."
"Americans left their homes, their families and their civilian lives to enter into the most brutal struggle humans can create," he continued. "It is virtually impossible to understand how much has been given to make this world a better place.
"I am proud to be counted among those who stood to fight for a representative government and fair taxation, to stop the nations that brutally attempt to dominate their neighbors and to stop the evil deeds of those who want a world where everyone thinks and believes exactly as they do. I am a proud American soldier. Thank you for taking the time to reflect on the sacrifices made by so many."
Then 11 students stood and read their essays on why Veterans Day is important. Second-grader Adin Kines wrote that U.S. soldiers "protect our freedom," and classmate Susan Le stated that "military people fight because they love our country and want people to be safe." Second-grader Nasim Setamber said it's important "to honor the veterans who fought for our country."
On Veterans Day, wrote second-grader Taylor Thompson, "I will go to Washington, D.C., to look at the Vietnam War Memorial at all 5,800 names on the wall. It is a time to remember all the Vietnam veterans and all the soldiers who are in the war going on today in Iraq. People should think about the soldiers and say thank you to [them] because, for a long time, [they] fought in the past wars."
Fourth-grader Valerie Frigerio wrote that "people in the war are protecting us so us kids can go to school. My dad is in Afghanistan, fighting for us right now. Veterans Day is important because those people who sacrificed themselves were brave, strong and independent.
"THOSE PEOPLE are really nice for taking care of our country. Those veterans that died for us are special, and we honor them. When the people come back from the war, we should give a big medal to everyone who [was] fighting for us."
Fourth-grader Lauren Sutton wrote that "Veterans Day reminds us to be thankful for our freedoms. It is a privilege to live in a country where we can vote, pray and go to school. I send cards and notes to soldiers fighting in Iraq."
"I also remember Veterans Day because my grandpa fought in the South Pacific during WWII," she continued. "Even though Veterans Day comes once a year, we should always remember our veterans every day."
William Chappell, a fifth-grader, wrote that on Veterans Day, "we are honoring those who risked or gave their lives to keep America free. Some people went to war and came back, but they gave up part of their lives and time with their families. They probably enjoy Veterans Day like we would enjoy a birthday because of the feeling you get when people are celebrating you."
However, William noted that Veterans Day is also "mourning those who died on the battlefield. My dad's friend was killed in Fallujah. He left behind a baby and a wife. I can't imagine the pain of growing up with no one to celebrate on Father's Day. Veterans Day is a solace to the loved ones of those lost in battle. [It] lets veterans of wars — and families who have lost loved ones — know their country appreciates them."
Sixth-grader Marissa Boyd wrote that those who've served their country deserve a special day of gratitude. "Maybe we do still have wars in the world, but we have changed our world so much. Thanks to these people, we can go to school feeling safe and knowing that everything is OK."
Classmate Lana Mahmoud asked people to "imagine how it would feel to not see your family, month after month, year after year. Imagine yourselves going to war, risking your life for someone else's. To know you have protected millions and billions of people would give anyone the spirit to keep fighting and sacrificing for the people they love and care about."
SIXTH-GRADER Olivia Ryder wrote that, "If it wasn't for veterans, we would still have slavery or be ruled by England. My dad is a veteran. He fought in a war so my mom, my brother, my sister and I could live happily in a safe and free world. I honor him for that, and I honor all the other veterans out there."
Classmate Tommy Weston said his grandfather and grandmother both served in the Army in the 1950s and he's proud of them for being willing to go to war. Describing veterans as courageous, brave, selfless, proud and patriotic, he said he's glad "Veterans Day helps people remember all veterans and gives them a day to shine."
Afterward, some of the veterans and military personnel attending Bull Run's ceremony reflected on what it meant to them. "It was very well done," said Col. Tim McNulty of Centreville's Gate Post Estates community. He's with the Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command in Alexandria.
"The kids put a lot of time and effort into it," said McNulty. "And it's great to see the school take the time to put on an event like this and ask the veterans to participate."
Air Force Maj. Scott Diezman of the NRO in Westfields was attending his second ceremony there. Son Kieron is a Bull Run fifth-grader. "I thought it was wonderful," said Diezman. "It was a real honor to be here and see that the kids have a real appreciation for those who are serving and who have served, and for the benefits that those who've served before have provided."
For Dennis Heins of Virginia Run, Friday's ceremony was his first one at the school, and he said it was touching hearing the children's words — especially "the ones who mentioned having a friend who'd lost a father. I appreciate it very much; it brings back lots of memories."
Heins also noted that he's a proud grandfather. Todd's wife Kerrie gave birth to their son Jackson two weeks after he went to Iraq. Jackson is now 9 months old, and Todd just met him for the first time, a couple weeks ago, in Hawaii.
"My son had two weeks' R & R there, but he's flying back [to Iraq] today," said Heins on Friday. "He has three more months."