Military veterans shared their stories with Egling Middle School fifth graders on Friday, in a tradition that is now 10 years old.
Based on the concept of “Take a Veteran to School Day,” the annual Veterans Day Celebration has become an educational program on service in the military.
Former Egling teacher Mark Abbay, who started the program in 2009, returned to lead the 10th annual event.
“It’s a pretty amazing program,” he said. “I love doing it.”
Abbay was appointed vice-principal at Paradise Intermediate School in September, which was destroyed just a day earlier in the Camp Fire.
Only 16 veterans told their stories this year, down from an average of 20 to 22, largely because several regulars live in the Paradise area and were evacuated due to the wildfire.
Veterans from all branches of the service shared their experiences about their time in the military.
It was the first appearance for Tony Pinto, of Live Oak, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and Humberto Martinez, who joined the U.S. Army after graduating from Colusa High School in 2011, serving in Iraq.
Martinez’ daughter Melissa, 10, said she was proud to bring her father to the school for the celebration, and Martin Jimenez, was proud to bring his grandfather Victor Gomez, of Colusa, who served in Vietnam.
All but two of the veterans come from military families.
“I was named after my uncle Johnny,” said Supervisor John Loudon. “He was a pilot that was shot down in World War II.”
Gomez is descended from World War I and World War II veterans and had a cousin who served in the Korean War, and many of his relatives have served in the military since then, including Ruben “Boy” Lopez, who was killed while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
“We are a big military family,” Gomez said.
In addition to learning what branch of service each veteran had been a part of, the kind of duties they performed, the length and location of their service, students learned through a series of questions posed to the group about boot camp, military vehicles, their reasons for entering the service, the kind of food they ate, and whether they regretted their time in the military.
This year, students for the first time learned about challenge coins, which some of the veterans brought with them. Challenge coils are medallions bearing their organization’s insignia. In practice, they were normally presented by unit commanders in recognition of special achievement by a member of the unit.
“I have one from President Trump,” said Pinto. “It has the Army insignia on one side, and the President’s face on the other.”
Several of the veterans are regulars to the event, including Daniel Weber, who served with the U.S. Air Force during Desert Storm.
Prior to going into the service, Weber pumped gasoline at a fuel station.
“I had a job that doesn’t exist anymore,” he told the students.
Art Blaine, Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy, retired, also attends the celebration every year in full dress uniform. Blain went into the Navy at the end of World War II and served also in the Korea and Vietnam wars. He has attended the program every year.
In addition to listening to the veterans tell their stories, students got to see and climb on an assortment of military vehicles parked in front of the school. ■