Nate Larson didn't get the chance to chat with his father immediately after the Overland High School Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 10.
Nate, a freshman at the school, had to report to his second-period class, and he didn't have time to mingle with the crowd that lingered in the gym just after a ceremony that was both somber and celebratory. That crowd included his own father, Bruce Larson, a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1970 to 1973.
After a celebration that featured moving speeches, patriotic music and sober ceremonies, the Marine Corps vet was clearly affected. As administrators from the Cherry Creek School District shared time at the podium with members of the Mile High Honor Guard, an Air Force Major General and a number of Overland performing artists, Bruce Larson couldn't help but be affected.
"You can't believe how it makes me feel. It makes me proud to have joined the service, it makes me grateful to Overland High School for recognizing the military and those who have served," Bruce Larson said. "It's just been exceptional."
It was the kind of emotional tribute he wanted to share with his son.
"Even though I didn't get to talk to him, I'm sure it helped our relationship," Larson said. "I was very proud to be here. I hope he was proud of me."
The Overland ceremony was one of dozens across the district during the entire week, as elementary, middle and high school students from across Cherry Creek staged tributes of all types. From community parades to flag displays, a wide array of ceremonies showed the depth of gratitude in the Cherry Creek School District.
The Overland ceremony served as a keystone celebration to that district-wide celebration, as veterans joined hundreds of students, dozens of administrators and a wealth of community dignitaries. After a breakfast ceremony that saw vets from the Korean War and the Vietnam War mingling with current service members, the honorees proceeded down a hallway lined with American flags and reported to the gym, where Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull summed up the spirit of the event simply.
"Thank you. You've made a big difference in the lives of the students of this district and in the lives of those in this community," Bull said.
That message came through in a performance by the choir from Ponderosa Elementary School, it was clear in a poem delivered by Overland student Kingahnah Grant Perry and a moving ballad sung by Overland math teacher Carter Krueger. Overland student musicians offered their own tribute in an epic symphonic performance that included the school orchestra and the school choir.
Major Gen. Mike Edwards was one of the dignitaries of honor during the ceremony, and the impact of the tribute didn't go unnoticed.
"What the Cherry Creek School District is doing is huge for our young folks, to help them understand what it means to serve this great nation," Edwards said. "To me, very simply, it's giving back and being thankful for the freedoms we enjoy."
Michael Salas, a Vitenam veteran from Pueblo, saw a similar message in the Overland celebration. The outpouring of gratitude and tribute marked a much different response from the protests and acrimony he experienced when he first returned from the war in 1971. Decades after the turmoil and social unrest of the '60s and '70s, Salas received a stirring degree of gratitude from a school packed with well-wishers from across the community. It made a difference, and it got to the very heart of the holiday.
"I think they have to understand that if you value your freedoms, you thank a veteran," Salas said. "When you're in the service, your comrades are the ones you depend on … I tell my children and grandchildren that you have to love and respect this country."