Ronald Ingram had a tough time holding back his emotions as the tributes came in the form of words, songs and gifts.
Ingram, an Air Force vet who served for more than 30 years before his retirement, sat alongside fellow service members of all ages and backgrounds at Fox Ridge Middle School on Nov. 10. They'd reported to the school gymnasium for a ceremony honoring heroes, a Veterans Day gathering designed to give thanks and offer tribute.
The Fox Ridge choir offered a stirring rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" for the hundreds of students, teachers, staff and guests that crowded in attendance. The school orchestra delivered an energetic version of a march by John Phillip Sousa. Students delivered personalized 'Thank You' cards to all of the vets in attendance, along with red roses and miniature American flags. The ceremony also featured speeches by Army Maj. Edd Harrison Jr. and Air Force Lt. Col. Brett Swigert about the meaning of military service.
It all had a very visible effect on Ingram, a Virginia resident who'd traveled to Colorado to see his family. His granddaughter, 12-year-old Choloe Ingram, is a student at Fox Ridge, and she'd invited him to take part in the school's ceremony. Ronald Ingram's eyes lingered on the flag and roses as applause erupted and patriotic music swelled. He took his time as he joined the procession of vets exiting the gym at the end of the ceremony, seemingly lost in memories from a 30-year-military career that brought him to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Thailand and countless other locales.
"It's just a great honor to be recognized," Ingram said, pausing several times to deal with the emotional impact of the ceremony. "I get choked up when they play the Star Spangled Banner at football games," he said between deep breaths, "I just love America."
He wasn't the only one in the audience at Fox Ridge whose patriotism was on full display. From Fox Ridge staff who stressed the importance of honoring heroes to active military members who stressed the core values of their branches, the themes of duty, respect and honor marked every moment of the salute.
"These are the future leaders of our country, so how could I not take this opportunity to share a little bit about military service?" Swigert said. A Lieutenant Colonel stationed at Buckley Air Force Base who's been deployed overseas multiple times and flown more than 50 combat missions, Swigert came to communicate directly with members of his community. "We try to remind the community occasionally that Buckley is here, to help them see our connections. It means a lot for them to invite us out here."
Specifically, Swigert cited the work of the Cherry Creek School District in coordinating dozens of Veterans Day events at dozens of schools across an entire week. The value of the district's efforts is significant for Swigert as a member of the military, but also as a parent of Tyler Swigert, a seventh-grade student at Fox Ridge.
"I've never seen any school district put as much effort into honoring veterans," Swigert said. "It's just incredible."
Ingram shared that response as he filed out of the auditorium with his roses and American flag in hand. He was impressed by the school's stirring tribute and by the students' success is spreading the same message he seeks to convey to his granddaughter Chloe.
"I tell her that it's a great honor to serve your country," he said. "I don't discuss it too often, but that's what I talk about.