Havelock students welcomed veterans to their schools to pass along messages of thanks last week.
"I was proud to be in the room as all the veterans here," said fifth-grader Melissa Chris-Anne Bratt, of Roger Bell Elementary. "They’ve done everything for us."
Bratt said she could tell how much the veterans, many of whom were parents of the children, appreciated the program.
"I think they did because I also saw some of them crying up there and it almost made me cry too," Bratt said.
"I didn’t know that some of my friends’ parents were veterans before. I feel very proud because of all the veterans that came out and were here with us today. I felt very proud of that."
In between patriotic songs and other demonstrations of thanks, the children heard a speech from 88-year-old Marine Corps veteran William Franklin Odom, of Havelock.
Outfitted in his dress blues, the retired master gunnery sergeant told the students about his service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
He brought a jar of black sand from Iwo Jima to show the school.
"That was what the beach was like. You’d be up to your ankles in this stuff. Volcanic ash is what it was," Odom said. "It made it very difficult to dig in. You started digging and it was like a doodlebug. You’d dig down and the more you dug down the more the hole spreads out and you didn’t get any deeper. That’s what we had to dig into when we got onto the beach at Iwo Jima."
Odom was nearly killed by a rocket on Iwo Jima and shot in the leg in Guam.
"I got to thinking after Korea that there’s got to be an easier way to make a living, so I managed to get into the air wing," Odom said.
Odom flew as a helicopter door gunner on short hops during Vietnam.
"Sometimes you’d get back from the mission and you’d get out and look back at the helicopter and count the bullet holes," Odom said.
One time, he got down and found three bullet holes in his seat.
"If I hadn’t been up and shooting this way, then he would have nailed me three times," Odom said.
He made a point of recognizing the veterans who had come to attend the program, many of whom stood in the back.
"The people there in the back, they are the ones that are making it now," Odom said to applause. "They are just as brave as we were and a whole lot smarter. Some of you out there have relatives right now fighting in this very dangerous war. I take my hat off to them."
Students at Graham A. Barden Elementary felt the need to recognize the sacrifices of veterans during a special ceremony as well. After singing patriotic songs, the Havelock High NJROTC Exhibition Rifle Team put on a show. Fourth-grade students gave a history of Veterans Day and detailed the five branches of the armed services. Representing those five branches were Army Sgt. Neal Sanders, Marine Sgt. Brandon S. Miller, Air Force Airman Erica Jimenez, Coast Guard Petty Officer Devon Chaney and Navy Petty Officer Kenneth McIntosh.
"It’s important because they talked about veterans and how they served our country whether they are Marines, or Air Force or the Army," said Jaheim Webster, a fifth-grader whose grandfather is a veteran.
"I learned that being a veteran is very important and it means a lot to the country because they go out there to protect our country," said fifth-grader Shakira Frazier, whose uncle is a Marine.
Teacher Sharon Logan said the students’ respect and pride for the veterans moved her.
"It’s awesome," Logan said. "It gives you a great sense of pride and you recognize how proud the children are of their parents. Some of their parents are deployed. The expressions on their faces when we celebrate the veterans is an honor and you can tell how proud they are of their parents."
Retired Marine Turner Bond attended the ceremony at Roger Bell in part because his wife, Sandra Bond, is a teacher’s assistant at the school.
"I’ve been retired like 12 years and sometimes people forget what service you’ve done for the country, but this kind of really makes you feel important. It’s like you get to deposit something with kids," Bond said. "This was awesome."
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Eric Parisi said he was awestruck at the program in which his children participated.
"It’s such a nice community and with so much military here. It’s nice to see all the kids and the teachers and everybody put forth so much. It’s wonderful," he said.
Jennfer Parisi, mother of two of the children, is now out of the military and was also swelling with pride as she stood next to her husband.
"It really makes me proud just to watch them thank veterans and understand what they sacrificed for them and to be so thankful for it," Parisi said. "It’s a very humbling experience. I’m awestruck right now."
The veterans, Bratt said, are regular citizens that often don’t get noticed.
"There are all kinds of veterans all around us but I don’t even know it," Bratt said. "Sometimes I would like to thank the veterans because they might be in the same room and you might not even know it."
"I think it’s good that you can spend time with you parents who are in the military who have been gone a long time to say thank you," said fifth-grader Ematrius McCoo. "They’ve been gone for like six months and you would really miss them. And then when they come back you would be so surprised and they will be surprised too and start crying. Thank you for surviving and doing great."