Community Connections: Sixth grade students honor vets with shadow boxes
Last week, at Viola Elementary School, a group of sixth graders from Carla Duncan’s class, presented six shadow boxes to honor veterans in our area. It was up to those sixth grade students to raise donations in order to purchase the shadow boxes. The veteran appreciation assembly took place on Thursday, May 11, with six honoree veterans in attendance and two veteran representatives from the VFW.
The assembly began with the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. Sixth grade student, Connor, welcomed everyone to the eighth annual Veterans Appreciation Ceremony. He noted that these six men from the Korean and Vietnam War are symbols of freedom. On a final note of his introduction, he added, “We know freedom is not free and that they put their lives on the line to keep us free.”
The company that the shadow boxes were purchased from, donates a large portion of profits to reputable charities, such as TAPS, Helping a Hero and the Aleethia Foundation, all of which help our wounded warriors and their families get through difficult times. The sixth grade student, Mason J., finished his segment of the assembly by adding, “The shadow boxes are assembled at a facility in North Carolina that provides employment for mentally and physically challenged Americans.”
“The coins you see in the shadow box have a very interesting story,” cited Ella, another student, “They were found in Basra, Iraq, in 2003, while coalition forces were there securing banks. The uncirculated Iraqi coins were decommissioned by Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War because they did not have his picture on them. The coalition forces wanted these coins to be part of something good, so they received permission to auction off the coins to rebuild an orphanage in Basra that had been destroyed during Hussein’s reign.”
“A couple of Americans then purchased the coins and began a business called Products for Good that give everyone a unique opportunity to honor and express their gratitude to our men and women in uniform while raising money for military families and providing employment to the disabled,” Ella continued.
AJ introduced the first veteran, Sam Emerson Roork. AJ noted that, “Mr. Roork was drafted into the United States Army in 1969 during the Vietnam War. When Roork was coming home, his plane was over the Atlantic where you could see the ice floating in the ocean when the captain said, ‘We’re dumping the fuel into the ocean because there has been a report of a bomb on the plane.’ So they flew to the closest airport in Ireland. They spent the night at the hotel and then came back to claim their suitcases to be looked through. When they took off, there were still five suitcases on the runway.” AJ presented Roork with his shadow box, along with a thanks of gratitude.
Ashley introduced the next veteran, “Lonnie Ray Neal was drafted into the United States Army on Oct. 6, 1966…. [After completing basic training and marrying wife Faye] Neal was sent to Germany for 18 months in the 2nd Batillion, 75th artillary. His wife later joined him in Germany and their daughter was born there.” Mr. Neal stated, “I was drafted into the Army as a 19 year old boy, not old enough to vote, but old enough to fight for my country. I had friends go to Vietnam and not come home. I had friends come home scarred and broken up from the rigors of the war. Some would never heal from what they saw and were forced to do. When I was around those men, I felt guilty I was stationed in Germany for 18 months instead of Vietnam. I pray, God will always be with them all.”
Andrew presented the third veteran his shadow box, after this introduction, “Terry Lee Bixler enlisted in the United States Navy in 1967 during the Vietnam War. He had just graduated and knew that he was going to be drafted, so he went ahead and enlisted. Bixler completed basic training in San Diego, and was stationed at various Naval bases before being sent to Jordan in 1971, where he served 46 days during the Jordanian Crisis.”
Evan S. presented the next veteran, with a brief introduction, “Roger L. Billings enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in April 1967, during the Vietnam War. He chose the Marines because he wanted really good training before being sent to Vietnam. Billings completed basic training in San Diego, before being sent to Vietnam in September of 1967. He fought in the Battle of Hue City, one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War. Billings was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the military’s third highest decoration for valor in combat, for his courage, aggressive fighting spirit and steadfast donation to duty in the face of extreme personal danger. After a 13-month tour, he was sent to Paris Island, S.C., to serve the remainder of his time.
Marlie introduced the fifth veteran, Donald Ray Pfalser, by stating, “he was drafted into the United States Army in 1953, at the age of 18, during the Korean War. He completed basic training at Forth Ord in California. From there, he was sent to Fort Lewis in Olympia, Wash. Pfalser was preparing to be shipped out to Korea but was injured, so he was forced to remain in Washington. After healing, Pfalser was sent to Alaska, which was not part of the United States at the time. He, along with many other soldiers, were involved in a maneuver known as Operation Moosehorn. He drove a water truck from Fort Lewis, Wash., all the way to Elsin Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Ala. It took approximately 35 days to make the trip in freezing conditions. After serving in a gunnery platoon in Alaska for approximately seven months, Pfalser was shipped back to the U.S. [At this time, Alaska wasn’t part of the U.S.] After 17 months, he received an early discharge because his father was a farmer and requested his return. Pfalser stated that the U.S. Army was an experience of the life time.”
Chloe introduced the final veteran, Vernon Crow. “Crow volunteered for the U.S. Army in September of 1950 during the Korean War. He completed basic training at the Presidio in San Francisco. He served in Korea from 1951 to 1952, and was stationed in California for five years, and then sent to Germany where he served for six years. Crow then served in Vietnam. In both wars, he fought in combat where he utilized his skills and training to serve as an artileryman as well as an Army advisor in Vietnam.”
After the presentations, Ms. Duncan announced, “[The] Cofounder of Products for Good, Lane Ostrow, always likes to recognize the students who donate the most or who work the hardest to gather donations. This year, we will recognize Chloe Ring, Ashley Neal, Evan Shrable, AJ McCandlis and Andrew Cox. Please come up to receive your coin.”
That concluded the veteran assembly, however, the students were allowed to look at the display that featured several of the veterans’ mementos and items they have from the time that they served, including their pictures. This assembly wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Ms. Duncan’s sixth grade class, who collected enough money to purchase six shadow boxes.