Students honor those who served our country

ARLINGTON ­— Wearing uniforms that have hung in closets for decades, putting on military hats on heads of gray hair, veterans saluted the flag Monday. Troops of children saluted back, not at the flag, but at the men and women who fought for it.

“Yes sir!” the kids shouted at Kent Prairie Elementary School in Arlington.

At schools throughout the country, children are learning about and honoring war veterans this week to celebrate Veterans Day, which is today.

At Kent Prairie, students invited service members and veterans to an assembly on Monday.

They waved paper and crayon flags, endured a moment of silence for fallen soldiers and serenaded the veterans with “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag” and “A Star-Spangled Celebration.”

“I was never more thrilled,” said 82-year-old Navy veteran Jerome Mathews. “I come here primarily not to show off or anything, but to let them know how many men and women have given their life for their freedom.”

Mathews was among several veterans to come in uniform. Decades after his retirement, his navy and white suit still fits perfectly.

He joined the Navy in 1944 and spent a total of 42 years in the service, 11 on active duty and the rest in the reserves. He manned all sorts of submarines and fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Around 35 veterans attended the ceremony, representing all branches of the armed forces. There were moms and dads of Kent Prairie students, a sister, uncles and many grandfathers.

To the students, they were all heroes.

“If they didn’t help America, we couldn’t be free,” fifth-grader Emma Janousek said. “It’s cool to have real, live veterans in our school.”

The event inspired third-grader Yna Killingbeck to consider a career in the service. Though she’s only 9, she’s thinks it would be neat to fly for freedom.

“It’s cool to fight with airplanes,” she said.

State law requires public schools to spend at least an hour near Veterans Day trying to “instill a loyalty and devotion to the institutions and laws of this state and nation” in students. Many schools meet the requirement by hosting assemblies.

“Our assembly is really for the kids — and having veterans there really makes it that much more real for them,” Principal Kathy Engell said. “The purpose of the assembly is really to teach the kids to be grateful for the freedom that’s been paid for with a pretty big price.”

As part of the festivities, Kent Prairie students brought in American flags that have flown in several wars. The oldest is a flag that was draped over the casket of World War I veteran Sgt. Robert Lee Simpson, before he was buried in 1954. The flag only has 48 stars because Alaska and Hawaii weren’t made admitted to the Union until 1959.

The flag was passed down to Simpson’s great-granddaughter, Dianna Kern Kortlever of Arlington. The flag usually sits in a box in her bedroom closet, and she was excited to display it at her grandchildren’s school.

“I drive the kids to school every day and I look through the front door and see it hanging,” she said. “Knowing that it’s ours, it gives me goose bumps.”

Micah Kluth was one of several active duty military personnel at the ceremony. He attended in the camouflage he wears to represent the National Guard.

The 30-year-old Bremerton man came at the invitation of his nephew, Ezra Schrader, and his niece, Brielle Schrader. They’ve asked him to come to Veterans Day events before, but he’s always been away, serving in Iraq or other distant places.

The staff sergeant doesn’t remember attending Veterans Day events as a kid, and he’s glad that today’s students learn about the sacrifices members of the military make.

“Seeing these kids makes it worth it,” he said. “It’s good having a job your relatives can respect you for. I feel proud doing it. I really do. That shows most in these kids.”

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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