“What is a veteran?” said fifth-grader Sarah Barr. “A veteran is someone who has served in the armed forces during times of peace and during war. A veteran is a person who has been ready to fight for our country’s freedom.”
The White Elementary School student served as mistress of ceremonies for the Veterans Day assembly Friday. The event included patriotic music, a presentation of the colors by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and tokens of appreciation for parents who attended, styled after the red paper poppies of World War I.
“What a heritage we celebrate — our legacy is freedom,” Sarah said. “It was won for us by countless men and women who risked their homes, their security and their lives so that future generations might call themselves Americans. Liberty has always come at a great price. Some 25 million of you men and women have courageously defended freedom, and we owe you a debt that can never be paid.”
The program’s keynote speaker was former White Elementary information specialist Owen Ditchfield. Ditchfield retired from the Fort Benning school system after 40 years.
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“But before that, I was an Infantryman,” said Ditchfield, wearing his old uniform for the first time in 38 years.
“I came here in 1962 for my officer basic training, Airborne and Ranger school. The same day in January when I signed in here was the same day this school was dedicated,” he said.
Addressing more than 250 students, Ditchfield said it’s important to always be proud their mom or dad is a veteran.
“You need to know that veterans weren’t always treated that well,” he said. “When I came back from Vietnam — I had two tours over there — a lot of the people who were against the war would take it out on the Soldiers instead of the politicians.
“Vietnam veterans would come back — not to Freedom Hall with the big unit coming together and everybody cheering like today — they would just come home individually on planes. And they were cursed; things were thrown at them; people spit at them. It was not a very nice situation. So I am so pleased to see how much this community is doing for veterans today. They really are cherishing them.”
After his speech, children applauded the veterans present, including many of their parents in the audience.
“As a principal, your heart breaks a little bit when you encounter one of your children who says, ‘my dad or my mom left yesterday,’” said Glenn Hughes, E.A. White principal, “But I also get to enjoy the smiles when they say, ‘my dad or my mom is coming home tomorrow.’ It’s (a) wonderful job that we can greet your children every day and provide them a safe place, loving school they can come to each day. If we can provide the best school for your children, then when you’re off serving our country, this is one thing you don’t have to worry about.
“We know what an honor it is to live and work in this great country of America, and we recognize all of our armed forces for making it the land of the free.”