This year, our 5-year-old granddaughter invited me to the Veterans Day assembly at International Leadership of Texas, a charter school in Katy with about 1,200 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. I was unprepared for what I saw, heard and experienced in a gym filled with her schoolmates, most of them sitting on the floor, quiet and well-behaved, yet vibrating with energy, kept in check by being led in unison cheering. The young faces across the gym were a credit to diversity and an acknowledgment of the demographics of the Houston area and Texas, a broad mix of races and ethnic groups.
Then I learned that I was one of 20 veterans to be recognized, seated in a row of chairs in front of the larger audience of students, faculty and parents. As the program started, I remained unsure of what to expect. After all, my granddaughter and most of the younger students could hardly be expected to understand veterans or Veterans Day. On the other hand, all of the students seemed to clearly understand the opening portion of the program as they stood, hands over their hearts, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, continued standing as the school’s choir sang the national anthem and then settled quietly back onto the floor and bleachers as the school’s band played (and quite proficiently!) John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as well as Samuel Ward’s “America the Beautiful,” school band standards for many generations.
The veterans were individually introduced, an interesting group, not just a cross-section of vets but of the United States. Three were serving on active duty and in uniform — two young Navy petty officers and an Air Force master sergeant. The rest had served in all branches of the military. One married couple were both Army vets (and parents of a student). I was the oldest, followed by a wheelchair-bound, severely disabled Vietnam vet. As we were introduced, the students to whom we were related came up to stand beside each parent, grandparent or uncle.
As I looked down the row of veterans I saw the unmistakable glow of pride on each of their faces. But their pride was not so obvious as that on the faces of every child who came up to stand beside us. My own grandchild, only 5, unlikely to totally comprehend what “veteran” means, literally glowed with pride, tense with restrained excitement. I can’t deny that I felt the same sense of pride. For me and for my fellow veterans there, the pride of the children who stood beside us was worth far more than any Veterans Day ceremonies, events or benefits.
We were being honored in a fashion which mattered by those who mattered to each of us, the greatest of honors. Veterans Day had become real and meaningful on that school campus in a fashion quite different than usually experienced. I’m sure every one of us standing there in front of a gym full of young children hoped that all of them would grow to better understand and appreciate veterans, Veterans Day and the potential responsibilities of citizenship, especially the sort undertaken by a few on behalf of all.
While fewer in number with each passing year, there are nearly 22 million veterans in the United States. Don’t forget them or their service, Veterans Day or not — and don’t forget that from among our children will come those who will become tomorrow’s veterans, some of whom will pay an enormous price for their service.