Guests were greeted by a huge American flag as they entered Ballou Junior High on Friday to attend the ninth annual Veterans Day Assembly.
Students lined the hallways greeting everyone who attended, with a special welcome to all veterans, thanking them for their service.
Ballou teachers Tamara Chipps and Troy Halfaday planned the assembly welcoming all veterans, students and guests, with a special tribute to those who served in World War II. Their goal was for everyone — especially the students — to remember the moment when they listened to a veteran from the Greatest Generation.
After Rogers High School JROTC Color Guard presented the colors, the Ballou band performed “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The main speaker for the Veterans Day Assembly was 93-year-old retired Lt. Col. Ken Wheeler, who wore the exact uniform he was wearing when he was commissioned in 1942. Wheeler spoke passionately, and without notes, directly to Ballou students about his experiences during the 28 years he served in the military.
Wheeler, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, said he was honored to be invited to participate in the assembly.
“I made the Air Force my career,” said Wheeler before the ceremony. “I would like to spark students to think about a career in the military. I always try to bring the word ‘career’ into the discussion, and I like to tell them what spark plugged me into the military.”
In preparation for Friday’s event, Chipps and Halfaday helped seventh-graders make posters that were displayed at the assembly.
What we heard from our seventh-graders is that they saw their veterans as (a) mom, dad or uncle, not as veterans and active military.
Tamara Chipps, teacher at Ballou Junior High
“What we heard from our seventh-graders is that they saw their veterans as (a) mom, dad or uncle, not as veterans and active military,” Chipps said. “They would casually talk about their dad as a Blackhawk pilot, or an uncle who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, or their great-grandfather who was a POW in World War II. We would stop them and say, ‘Whoa! Back up. Your dad does that?’”
Several Ballou students participated in the event, bringing a family member who was currently in the military or had served in the military.
Olivia Burrow’s father, retired Lt. Col. Kyle Burrow, a Blackhawk Medivac helicopter pilot who served in the Middle East, accompanied her to the podium. Burrow spoke about her father’s career in the military and thanked him for his service.
Amorn Burris, a student in the deaf and hard of hearing program at Ballou, signed a tribute to his father, Capt. Phillip Burris, as an interpreter translated his message.
Each year Woodland Elementary School staff brings two fifth grade students who wrote a letter to someone in the military. This year, Alana Ohlheiser and Grady Barnes read letters they had written to veterans, thanking them for their service.
Ohlheiser said her grandfather served in the Army and she wanted to thank him and all others who served.
A number of students at Ballou come from a military background, and Chipps and Halfaday are passionate about honoring the families and helping the students learn about their experiences.
“It is a humbling experience to recognize the veterans and the families that reconnected with Ballou, and for the kids to make that connection. We take this seriously. It is very emotional and exciting,” Halfaday said.
Wheeler concluded his talk to the audience by saying how grateful he was for his career in the military.
“I have a lot of stories to tell. I traveled the world. My entire career is like opening the pages of National Geographic,” he said.