Dozens of Los Banos area veterans were honored by hundreds of students of Our Lady Fatima School who gave thanks with a ceremony Friday including songs, dance and poetry.
The school has held the annual event for more than 20 years, according to administrators. But Friday’s ceremony had the largest veteran turnout out of any school event, Principal Kendyl Darnell said.
“It’s important to me because we have a lot of veterans who might have gone here when they were little and for all of them to come together and for us to appreciate them means a lot,” said eighth grader Paris Kelly, a member of the OLF student government, which organized the ceremony.
The 90-minute ceremony started off with the American Legion Post 166 and VFW Post 2487 posting of the colors. Students of each grade at OLF put on a special performance.
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Preschoolers walked around the veterans and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Kindergarteners played bells, and then first graders performed “Yankee Doodle.”
Second graders sang “America the Beautiful,” while third graders sang “U.S.A.” Fourth and fifth graders combined to read a poem. Sixth graders also read a military tribute poem.
Seventh graders sang a song depicting each branch of the U.S. military, and eighth graders sang a veterans rendition of “Hallelujah” as they explained the significance of folding the U.S. flag.
Students and members of the community also gifted the veterans honorary items, including special slippers for the coming winter season.
“We recognize we have a lot of members of our community who are veterans,” Darnell said. “We recognize the sacrifice they have given, their families have given, which is more than any of us deserve.”
Darnell spoke to the veterans as did Los Banos VFW Commander Michael Hughes and Mayor Mike Villalta, who reminisced about attending OLF as a kid.
Many students, including seventh grader Mikayla Moore and eighth grader Hailee Moore, felt the ceremony was important to recognize members of their own families who served in the military.
“Some people don’t recognize what the veterans ... how much they do for us,” Mikayla said.
Some veterans’ eyes welled with tears after the event. “It’s a fantastic, amazing thing,” said Eugene Alamo, an 80-year-old Army veteran who served from 1961 to 1963, and six years in the reserves.
Alamo said he didn’t know about the annual OLF event until his niece told him about it this year. And it was his first time attending.
“Putting this on, it teaches these young kids that freedom is not free,” he said.