Italy ISD recognizes U.S. Veterans

Image: Stafford students make signs and posters to honor their heroes.

Stafford students make signs and posters to honor their heroes. (Barry Byers)

The Italy Independent School District honored United States Veterans Monday morning with a community wide program. Students from elementary school through high school were involved in honoring the men and women who have served their country.

Approximately 30 current and former members of the military were honored.

Members of the Italy FFA did the presentation of the flags and Barry Bassett, superintendent, welcomed those in attendance. Monserrat Figueroa led the Pledge of Allegiance with Taylor Turner leading the Texas Pledge. Kyle Tindol wowed the group singing The National Anthem.

Paige Westbrook answered ‘What is a Veteran?’ She said, “Whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The ‘United States of America’, for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’”

The elementary school also participated in the morning’s events.

The Stafford Student Council read a poem about veterans. Fifth graders read a passage from “Flanders Fields” and students from the gifted and talented program presented each soldier with poppies. The pre-kindergarten class sang American Soldier and the kindergarten and first graders sang, Grand Old Flag. Second graders did flip cards for each branch of the military, fourth graders gave the values and mottos for each branch of the service and third grade students read an acrostic poem for veterans.

The Italy High School Regiment Band performed Shenandoah and Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Lyall Kirton, a former U.S. Marine and a retired Sgt. Major with the Army National Guard addressed the group of students, veterans and community members gathered for the event.

Kirton said he didn’t deserve to be standing at the podium because so many of the others there had stories to tell but he said he was asked to speak because of his tenure – three years as a U.S. Marine and 33 years in the Army National Guard.

He explained that Veterans Day is a day which U.S. military veterans are honored for their service in the armed forces. He said the day is celebrated on November 11 each year. That date – November 11 — was the last day of WWI, ending the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. He said the day was originally planned to honor those who died in WWI but was eventually changed to honor all U.S. Veterans.

He also explained that Memorial Day is now a day that honors those soldiers who gave their life defending this country.

Kirton said he was thankful that he had the opportunity to serve. He recognized the veterans on hand noting there were representatives from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kirton received a standing ovation when he apologized to the Vietnam Veterans who were treated so dishonorably by the American public.

He said, “I have seen some of our servicemen come back to the United States who were spit upon and cussed. Today, I especially, I want to thank you – the Vietnam Veterans – for your service to our country. I apologize to you for the treatment you received.”

He read a card given each of the service men and women at the assembly by students from Stafford Elementary. It read, “Dear Veteran, thank you for protecting the U.S.A. You are very brave. We are very proud of you. Thank you for your service.”

Kirton also recognized and thanked David Clingan who was at the assembly. Clingan is a sergeant in the U.S. Army and is currently stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. He joined the U.S. Army in 2009 and spent a year in Afghanistan. Clingan is the son of Kae Clingan and the late Vernon Clingan, both graduates of Italy High School.

Kirton said, “We honor our nation’s veterans for their faithful service to our country, and for what they have done to defend and preserve our freedom. Generation after generation, young men and women have answered our country’s call, and their lives have been changed forever. We are grateful to all who have served, whether in peacetime or in conflict. But today we especially remember those who have been tempered by fire. We thank all of our country’s veterans – those of past generations, and those who continue to earn this title today. May we never forget what our country has asked of them and what they have given in return. Help us to give them the respect and honor they are due.”

He also recognized and asked Johnny Jones, an Italy High School teacher and coach, to speak about his time in the military.

Jones said he still recalls the military’s Code of Conduct – I am an American fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

During the Vietnam War, Jones was assigned to a search and rescue team.

He told the gathering that there were times when he was so afraid that he feared others in the rescue mission would notice. He said he got in there and did his job when it was time to rescue a fellow soldier. Once that was over, he said the fear and trembling took over until they were out of harm’s way.

Jones explained one rescue mission for a Navy pilot who was shot down near Phu Ly. He said they received so much fire on the mission that the team had to return to the ship. He said a second team left to rescue the pilot. He said they took a direct hit and their instrument panel exploded and they lost an engine. They, too, were forced to return to the ship. He said a decision to make a night rescue followed.

He said this group was not fired upon initially but overshot the pilot. They flew over a flak trap and the helicopter exploded when it crashed into a hill. He said three more crews volunteered to take on the mission but said the Harbor Master said no more.

Jones said he hated leaving Americans behind. He said the pain is still there although it’s been 45 years.

Jesica Wilkins thanked all who participated in the event.

Lee Joffre, Italy High School principal, recognized the students at Italy High School who have already signed up for military service.

He said many students today are taught to think of themselves first and then others. He said these students, who have signed up for military service, are bucking the system and serving others first.

He said it has been 20 years since he left the U.S. Navy. He said one of the reasons he joined the military was due to the amount of respect the veterans received.

Madison Washington concluded the event performing Taps on the trumpet.