The hundreds of veterans who visited schools across the Cherry Creek School District for a single week in November had a wide range of stories to tell.
They served and sacrificed on battlefields across the globe, from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan. They fought for their country in conflicts spanning seven decades; they played key roles in wars that steered the course of human history. In the process, many saw friends and fellow service members pay the ultimate cost for the cause of freedom. Many still carried the lifelong physical and mental scars that come with military service.
Every one of the current and former service members had a specific story of sacrifice, and every one received a fitting tribute from Cherry Creek students, staff and community members. That was the main intent behind this year's Veterans Week celebration, a wide-ranging event that included parades, concerts, coordinated school projects and guest speakers.
"We really have made a commitment to honoring our veterans and recognizing our service members," said Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull. "It's important for our students to understand that the freedoms that they have, the life they get to live, is something that came from service."
At Thunder Ridge Middle School, that recognition came in the celebration of a very special keynote speaker. Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix spoke to a capacity audience gathered in the gymnasium on Nov. 11, stressing universal themes of selflessness and service.
You should be willing to sacrifice for those who would do it for you," Dix said. "You don't have to be on the battlefield to do the right thing … Your community and your country will be the beneficiary of your good work.
"Believe in something greater than yourself," he added.
It wasn't the first time Dix imparted those basic messages to an attentive audience from the Cherry Creek School District. He delivered his first presentation for the district's Veterans Day celebration in 2008 and returned for the event two years later.
At High Plains Elementary School the same day, students packed the auditorium to cheer on veterans from all branches of the U.S. military. Honorees included vets who'd served in World War 2, Vietnam and Afghanistan. Second-graders offered detailed presentation about U.S. military history, and a choir of kindergarteners delivered a heartfelt version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Guests included relatives of students, as well as community members. Newell Moy, a former Air Force lieutenant and World War II vet, was one of the latter. The decorated former pilot had already interacted with High Plains students and neighbors Dylan and Dean Chen-Becker, relating stories gleaned from a long military career and countless hours of selfless service.
"We really have made a commitment to honoring our veterans and recognizing our service members ... It's important for our students to understand that the freedoms that they have, the life they get to live, is something that came from service."
-- Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull
When the prospect of a ceremony honoring the community's veterans at their school came up, Moy was an ideal candidate.
"The first thing they thought of was to ask Newell to participate, because they're so proud of him," said Derek Chen-Becker, the boys' father who led the Boy Scouts troop during the High Plains Elementary Veterans Day event. "Newell has shared stories with them, and when they flew the B-17 over Centennial Airport, we actually had the opportunity to go over and Newell gave us a tour. They're excited to be involved."
That same brand of excitement marked the celebration at Fox Ridge Middle School on Nov. 10. 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. 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."
Those kinds of tributes across the district offered a dual benefit for veterans and students alike. The presence of service members drove home a very important message about sacrifice, duty and honor.
"This is real. Students get to talk to veterans. They get to feel the emotion," Bull said. "They get to say 'thank you' to those individuals and service members get to say 'thank you' back. It makes it real. I am continually touched by the show of emotion that comes from our veterans."