Yesterday I found myself in the gymnasium of a small, rural elementary school that puts on an annual Veterans Day program. The entire fifth-grade class, all of 20 or so kids, sang a song with some of them as soloists who could really belt out a number, and some of them recited poetry. They led everyone in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and in singing the National Anthem. And they talked about the history of different traditions. Very interesting.
They played a video of Red Skelton remembering how one of his teachers taught the kids to say the Pledge with feeling—I LOVE Red Skelton.
Then they asked all of the veterans in the audience to stand at the front by the stage, and 26 men and women went forward. Each one said what war they fought in or what years they served, what branch of the military they represented and how they were related to a kid in the school. There was a great-grandfather, grandfathers, uncles, an aunt and one of the teachers who retired from the National Guard. There were soldiers from every war from World War II to the war in Bosnia—one of my favorites was a grandfather who wore a sweatshirt that read, "I'd worry about getting older if I weren't so damn sexy."
These kids had done their research and discovered that out of the 94 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, two live in Ohio. So, they wrote to them and invited them to their program. One of them accepted, and he showed up wearing his various medals and walking with a very distinguishing cane. The kids presented him with a plaque, and he talked about what a privilege it is to be honored by school kids—he's a retired teacher and a truly lovely gentleman.
Before I went to this program, which was an assignment for the newspaper, I was watching videos of London's Remembrance Day ceremony on Sunday. I was thinking these people know how to treat their traditions, or at least the people in front of the camera do, and their music breaks my heart. I was frowning over how the US doesn't seem to have so many patriotic songs that are truly beautiful—God Bless the USA doesn't count!!! But when I was in that gymnasium with these kids who had latched onto their own traditions so fiercely they wouldn't let their teacher meddle with them, I thought we do OK here.
I may prefer Elgar's Nimrod to some schmultzy song with kids doing the motions for tears streaming down their faces, but the pride and sense of belonging is the same.
And for something to bring tears, have a look at this report from CNN.