Echo veteran Joe Hammer removed his hat and held it in front his chest in reverence as elementary students paraded through the center of town Thursday morning dressed as service members, carrying American flags and signs, chanting, “U.S.A.”

Hammer, originally from Hermiston, served in the Air Force from 1991-1995 and said the parade was a welcome tribute for the sacrifices of veterans.

“It was pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s nice to see they are instilling patriotism back in the schools.”

Sixth-grader Ryan Clark was dressed as his great-grandfather, Elmer Henry Sears. Clark said he was a pilot in the Army before the Air Force was created. His classmate, Xander Harsh, was dressed as a more recent veteran, Capt. Michael Brian Daake, who served in the Army in 2004-2005. Both said they learned a lot about veterans preparing for the parade and an afternoon assembly, in which the middle school students acted as a wax museum of veterans from different eras and explained their character’s service.

“Veterans are nice to our country,” Harsh said. “They are awesome. They have cool guns, and they protect the U.S.A.”

For the parade, each elementary grade honored a different branch of the military. First-graders dressed as Marines, and a recruiter from the Corps visited the class on Tuesday. Student Mateo Gutierrez said he liked the recruiter’s uniform and hearing about the places he had been. His “Papa” was in the Coast Guard, and he wanted to join the military “so I can fight for America,” he said.

First-grader Jude Winkler said she asked the recruiter about the badges on his uniform. He had 12, she said, and explained he received them for serving in different places. She said she enjoyed honoring veterans and was happy to have an American flag at her house.

First-grade teacher Kara Mackenzie, whose grandfather served in the military, said the students also worked with their parents to create family trees identifying relatives who served in the military. She said many were unaware they had grandparents who were veterans.

Principal Keith Holman said the teachers and students put a lot of work into the parade, which was new this year. He said recognizing veterans was important.

“We always need to say thank you to the veterans. The students don’t understand what kind of sacrifice goes on,” he said. “I think it’s something else that brings the community and school together, and I think that’s great to see.”

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