Local schools honor veterans
Carroll County schools held Veterans Day assemblies on Friday to salute local veterans for their service.
Berryville High School recognized veterans with a slideshow and musical performance Friday in the Bobcat Gym. High schoolers Amber Veach and Delwin Portillo welcomed visitors to the assembly before the presentation of the colors by the Eureka Springs Color Guard.
“On behalf of the faculty and student body of Berryville High School, we’d like to welcome our veterans and their families,” Portillo said. “We are here today to honor your achievements, courage and dedication.”
After the pledge of allegiance and a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” by Berryville’s wind ensemble, a slideshow was presented featuring photos of Berryville veterans who have served their country. Veach asked the veterans to stand when their picture appeared on the screen if they were able and encouraged teachers and students to stand in support when photos of their loved ones appeared on the screen.
As each veteran stood to be recognized, the gym erupted in applause.
The wind ensemble and choir performed “A Tribute to the Armed Forces,” and the symphonic band then played “The Gettysburg Address.” Assistant band director Hayley Watson said the piece recognizes one of the great moments of American history using fragments from three different Civil War songs and a narration of excerpts from the Gettysburg Address.
“I’m honored to announced that it will be narrated by chief sonar technician Edward Wallace [tech coordinator], who is a retired member of the U.S. Navy,” Watson said. “Wallace was a member of the Berryville band program in high school, and I speak for both myself and the entire high school concert band when I say we are so thankful for his service to our country, his continued love of music and his willingness to help us perform this piece today.”
Certificates were presented to the veterans by Veach, Portillo, Marco Berrios and Allison Wisdom. After the assembly, a free lunch was provided to the veterans and their families by FCCLA and the Food Production class.
Green Forest High School held a Veterans Day assembly on Friday morning in the Grim Gym, where students honored veterans and reflected on the sacrifices that service members make for the freedom of all in this country.
Conner Glassell, student council president, and Maressa Hernandez, student council representative, introduced the veterans and the branch of the military they served in as the crowd applauded each service member for his or her service.
Third-grader Samuel Lopez read his poem “Thank You,” which thanked veterans for the freedom, life and everything else that students enjoy because of their service.
The Alpha Choir sang “In Flanders Field,” and the High School Contest Choir sang “United We Stand.” The Green Forest High School Band performed “Times Remembered” and “Armed Forces Salute,” having veterans stand when their branch’s song was played.
Glassell thanked veterans for their service, saying he is a proud descendant of veterans.
“My grandfather and great-grandfather participated in history by serving in World War II and the Korean War,” he said, “to make sure that in 2017 I would have the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Glassell continued, “Today, we honor the 18.5 million veterans living in the United States. Since our great nation was founded in 1776, it has been at war during 214 out of 235 calendar years of existence. We have engaged in 21 major conflicts that required the nation’s military to act. Because of them, you are here today, and you are free.”
He then introduced Julie Adams, a Green Forest graduate, as the speaker for the event. Glassell said Adams is the sister of another Green Forest graduate, the late U.S. Navy SEAL Tommy Ratzlaff.
“When it comes to supporting our veterans, Adams’ support is over the top,” Glassell said. “She is very active and spends countless hours with the Wreaths Across America program and volunteers for the Honor Flight Program where veterans from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam are flown to Washington D.C. to visit monuments dedicated to them.”
He continued, “She participated in the Arkansas Run for the Fallen and the Fallen Heroes Memorials, and she is the race director of the Rat Race 5K, which is held on the football field each year in honor of her brother.”
Adams said she comes from a family of veterans, growing up with father who was a Vietnam War veteran and later having a brother be a U.S. Navy SEAL.
She said her brother enlisted in the U.S. Navy immediately after graduating from Green Forest High School in 1995. By age 34, he had achieved the rank of Senior Chief and was a Naval Special Warfare Operator assigned to an East Coast-based special warfare unit, she said. While flying on board a Chinook helicopter in the Wardok province in Afghanistan, Ratzlaff and 30 service personnel, including 20 fellow members of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6, were shot down, Adams said.
“I attended a ceremony in 2011 where the speaker took a moment to speak about the SEAL team,” she said. “He said those men’s lives were not taken. They were given. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about over the last six years.”
The knowledge that service members are willing to make that sacrifice to protect the freedom of the people in this country, she said, is what makes Veterans Day so special to her.
“There were 31 American lives on that helicopter that chose to be there,” Adams said. “They chose to put their lives on the line to protect their families, to protect me and to protect you. My brother gave his life protecting freedom, and that brought the patriotism of a service member to a whole new light in my eyes.”
She continued, “Those men and women put their lives in harm’s way every day. They may not realize they’re doing it when they sign up and may not want to talk about it now, but they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us.”
Adams said veterans have not always been received warmly in the country. Her father voluntarily joined the Vietnam War effort, she said, and spent time in Vietnam and Ethiopia during his deployment. The war was very controversial, she said, and most of the soldiers involved did not return home to the welcome arms that many do today.
“They were looked down on and discriminated against. They did not wear their uniforms home proudly,” Adams said. “They came back to their families with no parades and no YouTube videos. So at this time, I want to take a moment to say to all veterans, but especially Vietnam veterans in the audience in case you didn’t hear it then, welcome home and thank you for your service.”
The Eureka Springs School District honored veterans just before lunch, with an assembly featuring performances by the elementary school, middle school and high school choirs. High school principal David Gilmore welcomed everyone, saying he was happy to honor the veterans and their families. His hope, Gilmore said, is that all the students will learn what it means to honor veterans.
“It’s extremely important to honor those that serve our countries and their families that sacrifice so much,” Gilmore said.
He encouraged the students to be kind to all veterans they meet, from holding a door open for them to thanking them for their service. Just recently, Gilmore said, he and his wife were having lunch before a Razorback game. He opened the door for veterans who were walking into the restaurant, Gilmore said, and let them go ahead of him.
“That’s just a minor thing we can do to show we appreciate our veterans. That’s the least I can do,” Gilmore said. “I want to remind you that we live in a great country. Sometimes, when you turn on the TV, the news media doesn’t always portray that. You see some of the worst of the worst there.”
He continued, “I want you to never forget the great country we have and the liberties we have in this country. That is all possible because our veterans have fought to protect us and keep those rights the way they are.”
The United States military, Gilmore said, is the strongest in the world.
“I think of our military as the biggest kid on the playground. You know not to pick a fight with that person,” Gilmore said.
His own grandfather, Gilmore said, served in World War II.
“He was in boot camp on D-Day, which is a very major point in our history of World War II,” Gilmore said. “He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.”
He learned about his grandfather’s service, Gilmore said, by speaking with him and other family members. Through those conversations, Gilmore said, he learned about his family’s history and our country’s heritage.
“The fact that he grew up in the Great Depression and fought in World War II … that taught me a lot about him,” Gilmore said. “I learned to honor my grandpa through doing that.”
Gilmore asked students to invite family members who served, saying he hopes the students do much more than that. He challenged them to interview the veterans in their families.
“I want you to turn off your TV, I want you to put down your cell phone and I want you to talk with that person, find out some things about them,” Gilmore said. “If you have a veteran in your family, make sure you find out information about them so we can honor them.”
Many local veterans were honored at the assembly, Gilmore said, but one veteran was featured as the honored guest. Major Grady Val Gardner served with the Marine Corps in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Gardner couldn’t be at the assembly, but he recorded an interview recounting his service. In the interview, Gardner said he didn’t see much action in World War II or the Korean War.
“When I went to Vietnam, I saw a lot of action. I was company commander, which meant I got shot at a lot,” Gardner said.
He received a Bronze Star with Valor, Gardner said, for all the years he served.
“It was just for my service. They said I did it in a professional manner, holding the traditions of the Marine Corps,” Gardner said.
The sense of community he felt while he served, Gardner said, is unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
“We looked out for each other. There’s something about when you’re in combat with somebody … you get such a close bond that’s impossible anywhere else,” Gardner said. “During this 28 years of service, there have been times when I have been mad. There have been times when I have been scared, but I loved it. And if I had it to do all over again, I would do it all over again. I loved it.”
At the end of the assembly, the school offered a free lunch for veterans and their student guests in the cafeteria.