Makayla Percy leads a group of flag-waving Vaughn Elementary School students in the Star-Spangled Banner during the school’s recent Veterans Day event. Photo by Ed Johnson, KP News

The annual Vaughn Elementary School Veterans Day event showcased the patriotism and musical talent of students. It also coincided with fifth-graders who wrote letters to veterans and started a coin drive to help fly a World War II veteran to Washington, D.C., to see memorials.

During the event, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts brought out the nation’s flag as a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was sung by Makayla Percy, one of music teacher Lisa Mill’s pupils.

“People in the audience said it gave them goose bumps,” said Mills. Afterward, musical students played the theme song for each individual military branch. During each rendition, family members of veterans of each military branch stood in admiration.

“When I hear those wonderful little voices belt out those songs with emotion and power, I am speechless,” said cultural enrichment teacher Ernest Donehower. “Seeing it all come together after all the practice is the reward for what we do and they did it the other day at the Veterans Day assembly. I could tell the vets in the audience were deeply moved by the kids’ efforts.”

Donehower, who helped wounded soldiers from the Vietnam War in Honolulu as a Red Cross volunteer, said that the message for students is that the rights and privileges everyone enjoys as free people in America come from the sacrifices of many who have come before and who continue to serve the country today.

“This is the time to reflect on what it means to be free and to thank and honor those who have helped guarantee that freedom,” Donehower said.

“It’s an important event to teach kids about patriotism,” Mills said.

Mills said she grew up as an Air Force “brat” and stressed the importance for kids to learn respect for the military veterans who did so much to defend the American way of life. “We take so much for granted in society,” Mills said. “We need to remember the people that sacrificed so much for us.”

Besides honoring service men and women with their voices, Vaughn Elementary School students particapted with writing, artwork and a fundraising campaign.

This all started after fifth-grade teacher Marci Cummings-Cohoe was approached by Renee Peavy of a group called Puget Sound Honor Flight in October.

Peavy asked the students to write letters to Western Washington World War II veterans and to watch a film.

The film portrayed some of the last surviving members of “The Greatest Generation” (those who grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II) in having a chance to fly to Washington, D.C., to visit World War II memorials. Many of the veterans were reduced to tears by the opportunity.

Cummings-Cohoe said that her students were so moved by the film, that they decided they had to do more than write letters. That’s when they decided to start a coin drive. The students built art-decorated collection boxes for each classroom so the whole school could collect donations to send one World War II veteran to Washington, D.C. The boxes are filling with money.

“We were looking for school-aged children to get involved and they were tremendous,” Peavy said. “They really embraced it and we’ve received wonderful feedback.”

Fifth-grader Riley Schuller said that before the film, she didn’t even know that World War II veterans still existed. “I think we should keep them around as long as possible,” Schuller said.

“The film changed me because I didn’t know how hard it was for them to go on with their lives,” said fifth-grader Haley Taylor. “It was really great that they got to see their memorial.”

Puget Sound Honor Flight began in March of 2013. It relies solely on donations and corporate funding. No federal dollars are used. Its goal is to provide “one last mission” for members of “The Greatest Generation.”

Although they plan to honor veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, they are now placing an emphasis on World War II veterans since 900 of them pass away every day.

For information, to volunteer and to donate to Puget Sound Honor Flight, visit pugetsoundhonorflight.org.

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