Young, old celebrate Veterans Day at Higley - East Valley Tribune: News

Young, old celebrate Veterans Day at Higley

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Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 5:16 pm | Updated: 2:29 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Dozens of veterans joined the Higley Unified School District Tuesday as students and community members celebrated veterans' sacrifices with a flyover, a cannon firing, video presentations and emotional stories of brave soldiers.

Slideshow: Higley honors veterans | Multimedia: Veterans' voices

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Dozens of veterans joined the Higley Unified School District Tuesday as students and community members celebrated veterans' sacrifices with a flyover, a cannon firing, video presentations and emotional stories of brave soldiers.

Slideshow: Higley honors veterans

More than 40 motorcycles rounded the Higley High School track as the Patriot Guard Riders, Buffalo Soldiers and American Legion Riders drove in with flags flapping in the wind. The cannon firing was a cue to silence their rumbling engines.

As the marching band from Higley and Williams Field high schools played the national anthem in front of a Black Hawk helicopter, the hundreds in attendance turned their gaze to the blue sky as four planes from the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force flew over the football field twice.

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William Robert "Bob" Dill, a Marine corporal from Mesa who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, was one of the many veterans who sat on the stage of the Higley Center for the Performing Arts during the second half of the district's second annual Veterans Day celebration.

Dill said he received "a lot of honor" he doesn't deserve.

"Those who deserved to be honored were left there (on the battle field)," said Dill, 88, who served from 1943-46.

"I think it's nice they (the Higley district) would do something like this," he added.

The three-hour event was organized by Tony Malaj, a former Army captain who served in Iraq and is now Higley's director of educational support and community partnerships. The $12,000 celebration was paid for by more than 30 business sponsors and donations, including the $5,670 flyover, Malaj said.

Master of ceremonies Craig Fouhy, KNXV (Channel 15) sports director, led the day's event, introducing several speakers, including Gilbert Mayor John Lewis, Gilbert councilwoman Jenn Daniels and state Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert.

"Watching these videos makes me proud to be an American," said Verschoor, an Army veteran who told stories of his grandfather, uncles, father and brothers who also served in the military. "I'm proud I served. Being a veteran means serving and helping others."

Besides the stories, the event was an educational, historical lesson as the school's JROTC members explained the reasoning of a flag folding ceremony during a demonstration. A Higley teacher talked about the significance of the empty table set for one, while a JROTC member pointed to each item on the stage during the POW-MIA ceremony.

Retired Marine First Sgt. Gil Contreras, the event's keynote speaker, questioned why he survived the battles many of his fellow soldiers did not. He read an inspiring letter he received from a 9-year-old while he served, and another letter of war memories from a fellow Marine.

"I wear these medals for them, not for me," said Contreras, who wore his uniform and pointed to his chest covered with shiny medals.

Higley Superintendent Denise Birdwell ended the celebration by asking students to sit down with a family member who has served in the military, and listen to their story. She said it took her 48 years to ask her father to tell his story from serving in the Air Force, and she said it's been her fondest memory.

"My father has instilled in me honor, and that we are all created equal," Birdwell said. "There have been people who have gone before us so we can have our freedom."  

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