Holding up the crudely stitched U.S. flag, retired Lt. Col. Don Koonce told area youngsters on Nov. 11 of extreme sacrifices Americans have made for their country.
The flag with 48 stars and uneven rows of red and white fabric was made by a handicapped young girl for Koonce to use in his presentations.
Koonce, who retired from the Missouri Army National Guard in 2006, is on a mission to speak to students in every school in the state.
So far, he has brought his message to 650 schools.
All across Oregon County on Friday, Nov. 11, schools recognized service members and taught children about veterans' sacrifices for the United States.
Koonce started at Koshkonong early that morning, went next to Alton and Couch schools, and ended the day at Gatewood School in Ripley County. He said his Veterans Day circuit ride is his way of paying back the country he loves.
"I love telling young American people I love America," Koonce said from the Couch gymnasium at 12:30 p.m.
He reminded students there, and everywhere, to take time to be thankful and to tell veterans how proud they are of them.
Koonce's talks included the stories of Jose Canterro, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States at age 13, was schooled only to eighth grade and saved 600 American soldiers in World War II.
Canterro was part of the Bataan Death March, ultimately imprisoned at Luzon in the Philippines by the Japanese. Risking his own death, Canterro, then 23, made a U.S. flag from a stolen red wool blanket, Navy dungarees and other salvaged materials. He waved the flag to alert incoming American bomber planes that U.S. troops were on the island.
Koonce said Canterro weighed 85 pounds when he was rescued and brought to a U.S. military hospital. There, he met and fell in love with a nurse. They married, had four children and lived happily ever after.
"Did you get the order of that?" Koonce asked the audience.
Koonce also told the story of young Nicole Carlisle, who suffered a crippling disease, yet replicated Canterro's homemade flag when she was about 14. Carlisle's flag was the one Koonce used in his presentations.
Koonce relayed another story, one of meeting 11 surviving World War II Navajo "windtalkers" in 2006. When asked what message he could give to young Americans, the eldest Navajo told Koonce, "Always be faithful to America."
At each of the ceremonies, veterans in the audience were asked to stand to be recognized.
In Alton, the elementary choir sang the theme songs for each branch of the service. Seated on chairs on the gym floor, many veterans stood at attention when the children sang "Anchors Aweigh" and "The Army Goes Rolling Along." From the bleachers, Oregon County Chief Deputy Eric King stood during the Navy theme song.
One Marine and one Air Force veteran attended the Alton ceremony. In Couch, three veterans were recognized among the crowd.
A large gathering of veterans, most in uniform, attended the 1:45 p.m. program at Thayer High School. The celebration there included Principal Michael Hess telling the history of Veterans Day.
Hess told his audience how an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, garnering the expression of "the war to end all wars."
During his talk, Hess held the flag that covered his father's coffin. Hess' father survived fighting at the Aleutian Islands during World War II.
"Some veterans return home to applause, some veterans return home to a quiet reception by family and friends, some veterans return home to silence," Hess said. "And, unfortunately, some veterans are unable to return home."
At the conclusion of each program, many of the veterans congregated outside the schools, sharing stories of their time in service.