Stepping Up Every Year for Veterans
Stepping Up Every Year for Veterans
Jefferson Elementary hosts Send-Off
Jefferson Elementary students honor nine Korean War veterans Nov. 3 as they prepare to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C, to view its war memorials.
No one else in Texas does for veterans what Jefferson Elementary does.
Since 2013, the little elementary school tucked into the University Park neighborhood has taken it upon itself to host an Honor Flight Send-off ceremony for some of Wichita Falls’ greatest heroes.
The Honor Flight DFW is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring veterans by sending them on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. During the two-day trip, they view the WWII, Korean and Vietnam memorials and lay a wreath on the Arlington cemetery.
On Nov. 3, eight Wichita Falls veterans and one Burkburnett veteran gathered at Jefferson Elementary for a rousing send-off. The group of veterans – all who fought in the Korean War (1950-1953) -- is the biggest group ever from Wichita Falls to make the trip, according to Kristi Etheredge, DFW Honor Flight coordinator.
The Jefferson Elementary gym was full, with students sitting cross-legged on the floor, the Rider JROTC lined up in the rear, the Wichita Falls High School senior band at the front, along with the Jefferson choir.
They will be part of a 42-veterans group from a 140-mile radius who will take the flight Nov. 4 out of Dallas, Ms. Etheredge said.
Jefferson is the only school to ever create a send-off ceremony since the Honor Flights began in 2008. No other school in Wichita Falls – or elsewhere -- has hosted such a send-off, she said. “We’re the only one we know of that does this Send-off through a school,” said Ms. Ann Morgan, a former WFISD employee who helps with the Honor Flight organization.
The non-profit schedules four veterans trips annually. When Wichita Falls’ veterans are included, then Jefferson has mounted an enthusiastic good-bye – if the school is not awash in testing or other commitments.
This year, Jefferson teachers invited the JROTC from Rider High School to preside over the event. The senior band from Wichita Falls High School, led by band director Justin Lewis, provided music, and the American Legion Riders, from Post 202, provided an escort for the veteran entourage as far as Henrietta. Wichita Falls police officers also attended to pay tribute. The Jefferson choir, dressed in blue, performed a variety of patriotic songs.
Band Director Justin Lewis leads the Wichita Falls High School senior band as they play for the Honor Flight Send-Off.
Mayor Glenn Barham addressed the gym full of enthusiastic students. “If nothing else, you’re full of energy,” he told them.
He explained that the trip, paid for by donations through the Honor Flight organization, was created to thank veterans for their service at wartime. “Without these veterans, you wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing today,” he said.
After the ceremony, children lined up to shake hands with the veterans.
Each veteran had been on a wait list for the trip for two years. The organization sends 40 veterans per trip, with World War II veterans bumped to the top of every list.
The organization also sends along one caregiver per veteran who will accompany him and help him with any of his needs.
The Jefferson choir entertained its fellow schoolmates and guests with songs including, “This is Your Land,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The Jefferson choir, dressed in blue on the right, performed several patriotic songs for the ceremony.
The students’ favorite song was “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which the entire school belted out with enthusiasm.
“It made me cry,” said teacher Julie Yandell.
She praised Jefferson music teacher Debbie Barker for readying the choir with so many patriotic songs. “She is amazing, what she did. Amazing. Amazing.”
Wichita Falls High School band members perform after the ceremony as children greet veterans.
“This is a wonderful way to honor our greatest generation,” said American Legion Rider Ann Smith from Post 202, who attended the ceremony. She is from Bowie, Texas but attended the event with many other American Legion Riders, led by Honor Guard Captain Ray “Tex” Calvert.
American Legion Rider Laura Calvert also attended as a staunch supporter of her father, a WWII vet. “I’ve been doing it every year. I enjoy doing it,” she said.
Somehow, Jefferson Elementary and the Honor Flight non-profit have linked arms and served in lockstep, said Ms. Morgan. “Jefferson helps us set this up every time,” she said. “It’s the only place we’ve ever done it. Everybody has been so gracious.”
Korean veteran Bob Puder, of Wichita Falls, said he was looking forward to seeing the Korean Memorial. He visited Washington, D.C. in the early 1970s to view the Vietnam Memorial and heard talk then about the hopes of building a Korean memorial someday. “They had a tent set up and were hoping to get a Korean memorial,” he said.
The Honor Flight Send-off event came eight days before Veterans Day.
The Korean War began June 25, 1950 and ended in July 1953.
It was viewed as a war against the spread of international communism. The bloody war killed 40,000 Americans and wounded 100,000; it killed 5 million in all, more than half of them civilians. Korea remains divided today.
As one of his last duties as mayor, Mayor Glenn Barham shook hands with children as they left the gym. He participated in the program by reading a Proclamation.