Ballou Junior High School welcomed the community to its annual Veterans Day assembly on Friday.
Those who sat in the jam-packed gym were glad they made the trip, and anyone who couldn’t make it missed an opportunity to see a professional and heartfelt presentation that had audience members glued to their seats.
Central Pierce Fire and Rescue displayed a huge American Flag that greeted guests as they entered the school.
Seventh grade language arts teacher Tamara Chipps and social studies teacher Troy Halfaday coordinated the event.
“We do it because we have quite a number of military kids that attend our school,” Chipps said. “Students are welcome to bring guests who have served or presently are serving in the military. We have almost 80 students here who are bringing guests.”
This year was Chipps’ and Halfaday’s ninth year planning the event, which began with the JROTC Color Guard from Rogers High School presenting the colors and the Ballou Band, under the direction of Rick Thill, performing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Three students created posters honoring a veteran and described them for the audience.
Bryce Erath and Alex Rodriguez honored their grandfathers, and seventh-grader Jared Fischer honored his mother, Amanda, who has served in the Air Force for the last eight years and is currently stationed in South Korea.
“I’m proud to honor my Mom for her dedication and sacrifice to our country,” Fischer said.
Fischer’s presentation was followed by a surprise video from Amanda to her son that brought the seventh-grader — and most of the audience — to tears.
Congressman Denny Heck, serving Washington’s 10th Congressional District, spoke passionately about military families and Ballou’s presentation.
“This is the finest Veterans Day assembly in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
Heck expressed his deep appreciation for veterans.
“Whatever the task is, no matter how dangerous, that is where our American military go. We owe them so much,” he said.
Heck also expressed his deep concern for the difficulty many veterans have transitioning after they leave the military.
“We owe a debt to these families to take care of veterans,” he said.
Mike Lane, a retired Air Force colonel who traveled from Arizona to participate in the event, was the guest speaker.
With his granddaughter, a Ballou student, standing by his side, Lane spoke about his six-year imprisonment in Vietnam.
An Air Force pilot, his aircraft was shot down over Vietnam and he was captured within five minutes. Tortured regularly, Lane said he survived for 2, 271 days. He encouraged the crowd to communicate, educate, exercise and have humor — some of the qualities that helped him live through his ordeal.
Two Woodland Elementary School fifth-graders read letters they had written honoring the military. Roger Smith, a fifth grade teacher at Woodland Grade School, said Woodland students have participated in the event at Ballou ever since it began.
Audrey O’Neal wrote her letter to show her appreciation for all veterans and thanked them for keeping her safe, and Nicholas DeYoung, whose father is currently deployed, said he was amazed that rock stars and professional athletes get more praise and attention than veterans do.
“Freedom isn’t free and you pay the price,” DeYoung said.
The Ballou band performed and the choir sang “A Letter to My Father,” which was composed by choir director Dan Davison. The event ended with Nathan Meyers performing taps. Meyers, a former Ballou student, is a senior at Rogers High.
Ballou Assistant Principal Jennifer Fox said she felt honored to be part of the event.
“This is my third year at Ballou. I was in another school in the district and heard about this Veterans Day assembly and what a magnificent event it was, but I didn’t truly understand what it was until my first year here,” she said. “It is so grand and emotional. It is an amazing event to be part of.”