LODI — The Vinewood Elementary School community was awash with red, white and blue, as students, parents, teachers and administrators honored several veterans and active duty service members Friday morning.
“Veterans Day is important because (veterans) fought and served for our freedom,” Vinewood student body president Lindsay King, 11, said. “We are all grateful and thankful they fought for us.”
The sixth-grader said her grandmother’s husband is a veteran, however, she could not remember what branch of the military he served. Her great-grandmother was a nurse in the military as well, and her great-grandfather fought in combat. Unfortunately, King did not know which conflict her great-grandparents served.
“I’m just thankful and grateful they fought for our freedom, and that we’re all happy,” she said.
This is the 12th year Vinewood elementary has hosted its Veterans Day ceremony, which was started by special day class teacher Nancy Cabrera, who said she wanted to honor veterans when her husband Pete returned from the second Gulf War.
She said she wanted Vinewood students to know the true meaning of why Veterans Day is recognized.
“This is so kids can understand that Veterans Day is not just another day off,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “But so they can realize who gave us the freedom to have this day off.”
Cabrera said the original event was just a 15-minute ceremony that introduced 10 veterans - typically relatives of students - introducing themselves to the Vinewood campus and describing which branch they served.
Today, the event features as many as 50 veterans, a guest speaker and a chorus sing-a-long lasting an hour.
“I think it’s wonderful that we show our veterans our support and that we not forget what they’ve done for us,” Cabrera said. “They don’t get as much recognition as they should. There should be a ceremony for them each day, not just one day.”
She said over the years, the students have built a strong sense of understanding about veterans and their service to the country.
The students were holding hand-made signs and posters welcoming veterans to campus, even escorting them from their cars in the school’s parking lot to the courtyard where Friday’s ceremony was held.
“At our school, we think very highly of our veterans,” principal Ben Koh said. “And we want to instill in our children here that we need to thank our veterans for the freedoms we enjoy.”
The day’s guest speaker was Harold Brown, principal at Sutherland Elementary School in Stockton. Brown served more than 10 years in the Air Force with tours in Vietnam. He was stationed at several bases around the world including Fallon, Lackland in San Antonio and Kadena in Okinawa, Japan, among others.
Brown said when he enlisted in 1968, he wanted to be a pilot. But those who wore glasses could not become pilots at the time because you needed to have perfect vision, he said. Instead, Brown became an intelligence officer.
When troops were sent to Vietnam, Brown said he didn’t want to go, because he knew the dangers and the possibility he may not come back.
But he did come back, and he has been an educator years. He has been at Lodi Unified School District for 16 years, with 11 of them as principal at Sutherland.
“I was proud to serve, and I’m proud to still be a part of this country,” he said. “No matter what happens, I will stand for this country and keep in strong and proud.”
Brown said he hoped that seeing the nearly 50 servicemen and women at Vinewood on Friday would one day inspire the students to serve the country.
“Everything that’s happening right now in the country could be changed by you,” he said. “Maybe one day you’ll be serving, and you’ll make sure our country stays strong. All this started with young gentlemen and ladies like you.”
Senior veterans honored
Eight veterans at Balance Assisted Living were recognized for their service as well Friday morning.
American Legion Post 803 Honor Guard members Michael Trahan and Bobby Rael were present to post the colors in the center’s community room, and present certificates of appreciation to the center’s residents who served.
“This is our way to remember our fallen brothers,” Trahan said. “They’re the heroes, not us. We’re the left behinds.”
Those being recognized by Trahan and Rael included Royce Lethbridge, nine years in the Army; Fred Cross, four years in the Navy and a tour in Vietnam; Ludwig Schoch, 20 years in the Navy; George Jines, four years in the Air Force; Doris Pentecost, two years in the Army; Calvin Bendixen, two years in the Army; Lloyd Pearson, three years in the Air Force; and William Chesnut, six months in action and six years in reserve with the National Guard.
“You men and women signed up to (serve in the Armed Forces), and you did so knowing at anytime you would be going to war, and knowing you may not come back,” Rael said. “Still, you decided to answer the call. Because of you, we are allowed to do all the things we can do.
This was the first veterans ceremony for the residents at balance Assisted Living. Program director Chelease Adams-Prock said she had organized similar events at facilities in Stockton, and wanted to do something to honor veterans after coming to Balance eight months ago.
“I’m proud of all these guys,” she said. “They were very surprised this was going to be happening today.”