Van Alstyne Middle School’s cafeteria took on a whole new face Friday as United States veterans of all ages, their families, students, and faculty filled it with respect and gratitude — all part of the school’s yearly Veterans Day program. It was a day of celebrating the Red, White and Blue, starting with the red program handed to each of the 56 veterans as they signed in. They then turned and saw, as did all the other guests, hand-crafted red, white and blue stars hanging around the room. As the day progressed, the Van Alstyne Military Club solemnly carried in first Old Glory, the Texas flag, and then the flags of all five branches of the United States military. On the stage, a white-clothed table set, a table representing the fallen soldier.
A particularly poignant time was when members of the seventh grade, after asking all veterans to stand, visited with each of them as they handed the standing heroes a yellow rose, and all the while a song, “All of Our Soldiers are Heroes,” played through the P.A. system. This was recorded by Van Alstyne’s own, the late Bob Skaggs, who passed away in 2005.
The quick-paced program, which opened with a prayer offered by Luke White, also included singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “My Country Tis of Thee,” plus a rendition of “Taps” played by Cameron Atteberry. There was also historical and symbolic teachings of these and military music. And so much more, such as a recap of the “Pledge of Allegiance” before the packed house offered that up in unison.
Another particularly personal time was when Master Sgt. Bradley Holbrook was introduced. Holbrook has returned from 14 and a half years of duty with the United States Air Force, and much of that time was spent in combat areas. Holbrook is the husband of Elaine Holbrook, who works with the school district. Veterans were seen wiping their eyes with this introduction, knowing he’d returned safely home to family, including their small daughter, Sawyer.
The Military Club
Members of the Military Club sat down to discuss the morning’s events after it was all over. said that, for her, it was
“(It was) indeed an honor to respect those who put their lives on the line for us,” member Maliyah Bougoin said.
Her mother is in the U.S. Army, she said, and later on she told World War II Army veteran Robert Hynds that she, too, plans to enlist in the Army.
Member Clarence Richardson said he respects all those who stepped up to serve the country.
“Whether you go to war or not, these people have all had the courage and discipline to go to battle,” Richardson said. “They were ready.”
Member Carly Ochoa agreed, adding that it was an honor to have so many veterans in attendance of the program.
“It means a lot that (all 56 veterans) came today, that they were ready to give their lives for our country,” she said. “And it means a lot that we were able to honor them today. Even if only one had showed up, we would have been just as honored to go through the program for him.”
Military Club member Hayes Hooper said that through the past four weeks the club has been practicing more and more.
“Earlier last week, we did a dry run of all this, and made it where there wouldn’t be any problems today,” he said. “We each knew our jobs.”
Ezequiel Alonzo, also a Military Club member, explained that the club is designed to help them all learn about military history and to be involved in events to honor veterans. He said he signed up because he enjoyed learning about military history.
Member Brandon Green said that he has relatives, cousins, who have returned from overseas military duty and he is seeing the negative side of their service.
“They come back with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and have flashbacks, taking them back to their (military) areas, in-depth feelings that tell them they are not in their home, but they are back at battle,” he said.
Green said that it’s hard for them to come back home and get back into their former lives.
“All three wars have taken their toll,” he said.
One friend of his is in a mental-care hospital. Another relative died in WWII, fighting in Iwo Jima.
“They have medical problems, some of them 100 percent disabled,” he said.
Green mentioned a project designed to bring awareness to the extreme plight of today’s returning military, Mission 22, found at Mission22.com, and is designed to raise awareness that an average of 22 veterans take their own lives daily.
A WWII veterans shares his history
Van Alstyne’s Robert Hynds, a member of one of the oldest families in the town, has attended V.A.M.S.’s Veterans Day ceremony almost every year it’s gone on. He was in the U.S. Army, serving during WWII.
“I joined when I was 18,” Hynds said. “I trained in Fort Sill, Okla., in artillery and had a short class in California. Then, I caught a ship that landed in New Guinea , where I stayed for about six months.”
From there, he said, he was put with the 43rd Division, F company infantry.
“I learned about infantry, literally, on my feet,” he said.
Next, he was reassigned to the 4th Platoon of F Company, which had machine guns and mortars and was a little closer to artillery. He was moved around a couple more times, sometimes getting injured.
“I was wounded a couple times, which put me out for a few weeks,” he said. “I went in 1943 and stayed through July 1945.”
Hynds talked about these experiences while wearing his NATO cap, and while speaking with Bougoin.
“It was an honor doing this for you guys,” Bougoin said to Hynds.
“I know you put a lot of energy and time and thought into it all,” Hynds replied. “You did a really good job today, starting out with parking everybody. I was impressed with all the program.”
The two people — separated only by decades, not by interest or heart — continued their discussion about the branches of the service and about military service in general.