Holidays are a period of time set aside for celebrations, recreation and remembrance. Some have a deep religious component, while others mark historical events or include a patriotic element. For Veterans Day, that patriotic element was on full display Nov. 8 at Holy Spirit Regional Catholic School in Huntsville, Alabama.
Over 70 veterans were on hand for the event, which included students ranging from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The featured veteran guests of honor were Col. Aaron Martin, Aviation and Missile Command chief of staff, and his wife, Col. Elizabeth Martin, Future Vertical Lift strategic initiatives and international engagements lead.
The annual event honors veterans with a close connection to the students while simultaneously educating the students on the service and sacrifice of the military.
“It's the most important event at our school,” said Susan Page, a former teacher and the event’s coordinator. “We want to salute our veterans. We feel like they are the true American heroes, and we want to put as much light on them as we can.”
Kathryn Hazard, the school’s marketing and social media coordinator, said the event is for both the students and the veterans.
“I'm a 20-year military spouse,” she said. “It's important to me to see that the students are learning about service, but also the veterans understanding what their service means to us as a country.”
All of the veterans in attendance were honored individually and escorted by their family members. That personal connection made the event more special.
“We have so many children here whose families are either currently serving in the military or they're veterans,” Principal Vince Aquila said.
“This is a very important and significant event for them as young Catholic school students to really identify and understand what patriotism is and that the spiritual values of the school, plus patriotism, are all wrapped together.”
Both Col. Aaron Martin and Col. Elizabeth Martin addressed the students and the veterans in attendance. They acknowledged the service and sacrifice that comes along with a career in the military. They gave a brief history on the number of people who answered the call of service and talked a little about their own personal experiences.
“It was incredible to see a school and community put so much time and attention into recognizing the service of so many veterans,” Col. Aaron Martin said. “They did an impressive job of creating an event that not only recognized their own student and faculty’s personal connection to veteran family members, but they also expertly educated their students on the importance of our military and the role service and sacrifice has to our nation’s strength and success.”
Col. Elizabeth Martin was impressed with the event’s organization and attention to detail.
“It was a truly powerful experience to speak before such a motivated audience of youth about what being a veteran means,” she said. “It was very humbling to attempt to adequately capture the essence of service to our nation along with selfless sacrifice and commitment.”
At the end of the ceremony, the students sang the official songs of all six branches of the military. Some of the younger students were dressed in homemade military outfits and waved flags while they marched around the seated veterans.
“The kids worked really hard on those songs,” Aquila said. “And it's not just something that was important for the children. To have our veterans, as well as those currently serving, come into our gym is a blessing that's bestowed for days and days. Their sacrifice is sacred.”
On being asked to be the guests of honor at the event, the Martins said they hoped they represented all veterans well.
“Being asked to speak was powerful,” Col. Elizabeth Martin said. “I hope my words adequately reflected the sentiments shared by other veterans. It was humbling today — I felt like I was standing amongst giants in the midst of other veterans,” she admitted.
“It was an honor to be asked to represent our military and also represent the over 70 veterans that were in attendance,” Col. Aaron Martin said. “It was a humbling experience to see the honor and respect that was shown by the students and faculty. The incredible effort they made, along with the attention to detail, to include aspects of every branch of service, was inspiring,” he said.
Before the event was over, Col. Aaron Martin made sure to educate the students with a vocabulary lesson. He successfully taught them how and when to use the Army term “hooah!”