Honoring freedom's defenders

Harold Hughes, top left, who served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, was the first to speak at an assembly last Friday at Hilltop school. Hughes told of his trip as he was transferred from a naval base in San Diego to one in the Philippine islands. Hughes said that as they were sailing through the Solomon islands in the South Pacific they had a torpedo fired at them by the Japanese. The ship was able to maneuver enough to get out of the way, said Hughes, with the torpedo missing them by just six feet. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

"This is a time when we take time to reflect and honor those people who have sacrificed their lives in many instances, who have served in the Army, Coast Guard, the Air Force, Marines, and the Navy. These are people who have fought to protect us and protect our freedoms."

- Hilltop Elementary School Principal Tom Ackerlund, veteran of the Air Force

PENINSULA - Patriotic words rang out at Ocean Beach School District school assemblies last Friday observing Veterans Day, which honored the men and woman of the U.S. military.

Earlier that day at Long Beach Elementary School the festivities opened with the Stars and Stripes being presented by a color guard from the U.S. Coast Guard Station, Cape Disappoint-ment. The group of over 160 students and teachers stood with hands over hearts as "Old Glory" entered the gym, followed by a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"It's really delightful to hear you say the Pledge of Allegiance," U.S. Coast Guard veteran Jerry Steed told the crowd. "I really enjoy it."

Steed, who works as a custodian at Long Beach Elementary School, addressed the group as keynote speaker of their gathering. Steed was in the service for 26 years, including during the Vietnam War. He has worked in schools in different capacities since.

"It's the first time in 15 years that I've spoken to a large group," said Steed. "I like kids. They're eager to learn. I enjoy talking to them and if I can impart something on patriotism to them. I hope I do."

Steed was not the only highlight of the Long Beach Elementary School program Friday, he was joined by a group of third-grade students who performed a skit about the history of the Statue of Liberty. Those students dressed in costumes they had made themselves, using whatever patriotic materials they could find.

Later that day at Hilltop Elementary School, the student body had the opportunity to listen to stories by three veterans who served during World War II, The Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Harold Hughes, who served in the Navy from 1942 to 1946, was the first to speak. Hughes told of his trip as he was transferred from a naval base in San Diego to one in the Philippine islands. Hughes said that as they were sailing through the Solomon islands in the South Pacific they had a torpedo fired at them. The ship was able to maneuver enough to get out of the way, said Hughes, with the torpedo missing them by just six feet.

"So that kind of shook us up a little," said Hughes.

Korean War veteran Al Moreno spoke of his time serving in Korea and Japan, flying missions as part of a sea-plane squadron. This consisted of flying very low over enemy occupied areas and taking photographs of troop movement.

"Nowadays they do all that by satellite," said Moreno. "At that time I was young. It was very exciting. Now that I'm a little bit older and mature I say, 'Wow, why did I do that for?' I think one of the biggest reasons, and I think it has been said before, one of the biggest reasons we went in to the service is because we wanted to have you here, my grandchildren, my children and all that. To appreciate the freedoms that we are very fortunate to have."

The program at Hilltop Friday also featured a presentation by Sue Anderson's fifth-grade class, which gave a history of the Veterans Day holiday.

The presentation told of how in 1918, at the conclusion of World War I, the United States observed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day. It was also the occasion in which the unidentified body was laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va. It is one of the few holidays that is always set for the same day every year as it reminds us of the 11th month, the 11th day and the 11th hour. In 1954 the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day after attention was gained by a small town in Kansas that recognized the veterans from their hometown on that day. An act of Congress officially changed the name.

As the assembly at Hilltop came to a close, Air Force veteran Maury Smith suggested to the students that they take a moment and talk with someone they know to be a veteran, to learn from them.

"As the other gentlemen say, we entered the service to protect our country, to serve it," said Smith. "To enable us to have the freedom and privileges that you have. And I don't think any of us would regret that we put in our time."

Smith left the audience by saying, "It was an honor, and we'd do it again"

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