Echo School students spent Thursday paying tribute to veterans with a parade, assembly and reception.
Under a clear blue sky, students marched through the center of town, waving flags. Each of the elementary school classes was dressed up as a different branch of the military, while sixth-graders dressed up as famous veterans and the older students used posters to form a giant American flag.
Richard Thew, a Navy veteran who came downtown to see his grandchildren in the parade, said it is important for each generation to study the past and learn from it.
“I like to see the kids get out there, and obviously they’ve been learning some about history and the branches of the service,” he said.
High school students Annalese Barnes and Lexie Cox were the parade’s announcers and shared facts about Veterans Day with the people lined up near city hall. Afterward, Barnes said she loves Veterans Day because she has veterans in her family, including her father, and so it means a lot to her to see people give thanks to those who have served.
“I think it’s important because so many people are laying down their lives for us, and we should be celebrating every day, but this is one day we can definitely honor them,” she said.
During the parade, a young man broke off from the group and came over to a group of veterans watching the parade. He shook each of their hands, thanking them for their service, before running back to join his class.
Melanie Humbert, an eighth-grader, said she thought it was important for the school to show respect to community members who have served. The annual parade is a way to do that, she said, as well as showing respect for the country’s flag.
Students also honored veterans at an assembly on Thursday afternoon, where each of the veterans in attendance were asked by name to stand while students read information about their service. There were also songs, poems and a statement by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, read by his field representative Jessica Keys.
The keynote speaker was Chuck Sams, communications director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. He was an Intelligence Specialist Second Class Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, on active duty from 1988-1992 and in the reserves from 1992-1995.
Sams — who is Cayuse, Walla Walla, Cocopah, and Yankton Sioux — said he comes from a “warrior culture” where people feel a responsibility to protect the lands they love.
“My people fought to protect these lands since time immemorial,” he said.
But veterans, more than any other people, can tell you of their love of peace, he said. When a country goes to war it is because their politicians failed.
Sams stood in the crow’s nest of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf on Jan. 16, 1991, and watched the beginning of Operation Desert Storm as planes took off to bomb Iraqi forces in Kuwait.
“I can still feel that in my bones,” he said, describing how a friend put his arm around him and said they had joined their forefathers as war veterans.
He dedicated his talk to two of his friends whose plane didn’t return: Tom Costen and Charles Turner.
Sams said veterans come back from their service with a love of country that continues as they serve in other ways, from volunteering as coaches to raising money for nonprofits.
“Veterans in your community continue to serve today,” he said.
After the assembly, veterans were escorted through a path of students cheering for them and invited to stay for cake and a “wax museum” made up of the students who had dressed as famous veterans.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.