Tales of daring feats and brave acts filled the classrooms at Frisco Elementary Monday afternoon. The students leaned forward in their seats, hands raised, full of questions. The speakers were military veterans, and the event was Veterans Appreciation Day.
"This is a long-standing tradition at Frisco Elementary," said Jo-Anne Tyson, a parent volunteer who helped organize the event.
Planning for the Appreciation Day started at the beginning of the school year, and has been done for as long as anyone present could remember. Every year, the school invites local servicemen and women to come into classrooms to speak to the students about their time in the military.
"The kids are so excited," said Crystal Goossen, another volunteer parent, whose son Riley is in the second grade. "They love when these guys come in and talk to them. They tell stories."
Peder Hansen's fifth-grade class listened to Bernie Zurbriggen, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard an aircraft carrier from 1961-63. Zurbriggen shared his experience serving aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The students gathered toward the front of the classroom, sitting in chairs and on the floor, looking at pictures of the carrier. They gasped in surprise at the height of the ship (28 stories tall), and the fact that it had eight nuclear reactors on board. When Zurbriggen told them the ship will eventually be broken up for scrap metal, they sighed in dismay.
After class, the veterans gathered for a catered lunch near the library. Groups of students walked past them on the way to the cafeteria, waving, high-fiving and calling them by name.
"I come here every year and tell them stories," said Stuart "Boots" Gordon, who served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Gordon tells the story of how his plane once went into a spiral, and then his first parachute didn't open.
"They get all worried," he said, laughing, about when the students hear his story. He finishes the story with his landing, safe yet barefoot, which earned him the nickname "Boots."
Following lunch, the entire school gathered for an assembly. Girl Scout Troop 2843 performed the flag ceremony. Both students and veterans joined in to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem.
Each veteran stood up and said a few words. Most thanked the school for having them, and told the students that they were the future. They reminded the students that there was much that they could do for their country, both inside and outside of the military, and that they should be very proud of the freedoms that the nation provides for them.
The school choir sang several patriotic songs, and the entire first grade stood up to sing another. One student stood up to read the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, and John Clark played "Taps."
Having the veterans at the school offers the students a unique experience, Tyson said. "I think it gives them the realistic sense that all our personal freedoms came at a price."