A Salute to Veterans
by Cpl. Rick Kennedy, C-1-5, Korea
My daughter Mary requested me to send her a photograph representing my service to the country in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. I sent photo taken while serving with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. It was taken while the second platoon was preparing to attack a hill being occupied by the North Korean Army in the late summer of 1951. My photo displayed a young Marine wearing the Marine dungarees with tan leggings, and camouflaged helmet covers. Across my shoulder was a sparking clean M-1 rifle and a full cartridge belt with two hand grenades attached plus two extra bandoleers of 30 caliber ammunition criss-crossed around my chest.
On the first of November, 2006, Mary invited me to attend on November 14th “A Salute to Veterans” being presented by my granddaughters Callie’s third grade at Grange Hall Elementary School in Chesterfield, Virginia. This was a good opportunity for me to visit Mary and her husband Joe and see two of my beautiful granddaughters Calista and Lindsey. The early morning drive to the Orlando Airport from Port Orange went smoothly as did the flight to Charlotte, and then to Richmond.
The ceremony was being performed in a new Baptist Church near the school grounds that featured a very large stage and a movie screen like the size used in a theatre. We arrived early, and were surprised by the large crowd mostly parents of the 208 third grade boys and girls participating in this event. The wall of the stage was covered with rows of American Flags with stars and stripes red, white and blue prepared by the students.
At 7:00 PM the students entered the hall from the rear wearing white shirts and blouses with a kerchief of an American Flag around their necks. The children were happy with smiles of excitement as they took their positions covering the stage. Everybody stood as The Pledge of Allegiance was recited by 200 students and 400 parents and friends. The words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” were sung by the entire student body, and larger than life photographs of the grandfathers and fathers of the students appeared on the giant screen dressed in military attire. It was elevating to see my worn and torn picture from Korea with mountain background projected on the giant screen. It brought back my memories of Korea, and made me feel like a celebrity.
The large group of singers sang “Proud of Our Veterans” and each veteran marched forward on the stage and received a special card from the third graders with a sketch of the American Flag and mine had a Soldier pointing a gun on my card with wording “Thank you Veteran! We are proud of our Veterans, proud of you all. You are patriots and heroes who answered the call! With Courage, strength, and sacrifice you saw our country through, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! From the Third Graders of Granger Hall Elementary School, 2006.”
The moment for me of overwhelming emotion occurred when the students sang the Armed Forces Medley consisting of all the songs from each branch of service. First the Soldier veterans were asked to stand for the singing of the “Caisson Song”: The same procedure was followed for the Sailors for “Anchors Away”; the Airmen for “Wild Blue Yonder’; The Coast Guardsmen for “Semper Paratus”. When the Marines were also instructed to stand while the” Marine Hymn” was sung with compassion by 200 magnificent young people with 400 relatives in the audience provided me with the emotional high of a lifetime. It was a struggle to keep from crying like a baby. For the first time in my life when I heard the words “We are Proud to Claim the Title” sung with passion and praise from these young students with voices denoting the innocence of angels. I was so proud and honored to be there that night.
The balance of the show included “America, the Beautiful,” featuring Emma Touchette on the violin, followed by “I Love My Country”, and “American Tears” by a group of soloists. I was surprised to hear the poem "In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae recited by one of the boys that commemorated the great battle during WWI. This poem provided the incentive for the Buddy Poppy Program presented each year nationally by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The final song was “This is America”. The standing ovation afterwards for these wonderful students was deafening. A special tribute is due their music teachers Mrs. Beth Jennings and Mrs. Peg Webb for their very professional musical renditions.
This performance was truly unforgettable. My only regret is that the entire population of the United States could not have been in Chesterfield, Virginia on this day. The patriotic accomplishment by these students could unite our country more than all of the past Presidents of the United States put together.