Veterans Day came three days early at Sacajawea Middle School, but none too soon for Army veteran Steve Swenson.
Along with dozens of other veterans, Swenson sat in the middle of the Sac gymnasium while students offered their thanks in song and verse.
“It feels good,” said Swenson, who served in Vietnam in the late 1960s and was at Sacajawea at the invitation of his seventh-grade granddaughter, Sophia.
“I also love my granddaughter,” Swenson said with a smile.
Two chairs away sat Carl Pearman, a veteran of 26 years in the Air Force whose ties to Sacajawea are even stronger: His daughter-in-law Jennifer teaches choir and his grandson plays in the band.
“It’s a wonderful event,” Pearman said.
It was poignant, too, from opening remarks by principal Jeremy Ochse to a closing “U-S-A! U-S-A!” cheer led by Spokane Public Schools board member Brian Newberry, a 23-year veteran who for two years commanded the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Through it all, several dozen veterans occupied a place of honor, physically and emotionally.
Ochse, the son of a Vietnam War veteran, offered a history lesson that began on Nov. 11, 1918, when the “War to End all Wars” was concluded with an Armistice.
The holiday became Armistice Day after a Congressional resolution in 1926. By the time it was known as Veterans Day, in 1954, more than 450,000 Americans had given their lives in World War II and the Korean Conflict.
Since then, thousands more American soldiers have died in conflicts around the world. On Thursday, the students and staff at Sacajawea said thanks to them and to those who made it home.
Ochse spoke on behalf of the students, all 800 of whom had written letters of thanks to local veterans.
In Cody Weed’s homeroom class, student leaders were given the special assignment of writing to those who are serving overseas now.
The school partnered with Fairchild, which will make sure the letters get delivered.
Only a few could be read on Thursday, but they conveyed a powerful message that reached across generations.
“You have protected so many different people in so many different ways,” one student said.
“Americans like me can enjoy many freedoms that others cannot,” another said. “We are very lucky in the United States of America to be able to do what we want, when we want, and we would not be able to do this without your service.”
At the same time, the Sacajawea musicians and vocalists gave thanks with songs such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “God Bless America.”
Invited back after speaking last year, Newberry said, “If I can hear music like that again, I’m here.”
Newberry, a retired colonel, spoke of his own service. “I wore this uniform for 23 years, and every day when I put it on I wanted to make sure I was honoring the memory and the legacy of the veterans who served.”
He saved the most poignant message for the end.
Recalling the “farmers and shopkeepers” who took up arms in 1775 and the Gettysburg Address, Newberry asked “What is keeping freedom from perishing?”
Gesturing to his fellow veterans, Newberry said. “The answer is right here.”
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