AlachElemVetFor 20 years Alachua Elementary students have honored veterans at the school's Veteran's Day observance.  That tradition continued Wednesday morning as over 75 area veterans attended the school's celebration, which included speeches and patriotic songs.

ALACHUA – Carrying on a tradition than spans some 20 years, Alachua Elementary students honored veterans Wednesday at a school wide celebration.  Over 75 area veterans were recognized at the school’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony.

Invited as personal guests of students, staff and teachers, school principal Eva Copeland welcomed each veteran by name to Wednesday’s service held in their honor.

The annual ceremony dates back 20 years, and became a reality at the urging of longtime Alachua resident and D-Day veteran, the late Glynn Markham.  Markham died in May 2007, but his legacy lives on in the numerous veterans’ memorials and services he saw to fruition.

One of the reasons the ceremony is held is to make sure the students know why they have the day off, Copeland said.  “We are glad we can do this to help our students understand what Veteran’s Day means, who our veterans are, and why they are important to all of us.  We look at this as a teachable moment,” she said.

Three weeks prior to the ceremony, students took home a newsletter notifying parents about the ceremony.  Students invited their “veteran” to the ceremony and each student was introduced along with the sponsored veteran.  The 75-plus veterans attending the ceremony represented service from the 1940s through 2000 and were the mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, spouse or friend of a student, teacher or staff member of the school.  As each veteran’s name was called, he or she received a rousing round of applause thanking them for their service.

Getting into the patriotic spirit, many students were decked out in red, white and blue, while some boys wore their Boy Scout uniforms and several girls wore Girl Scout uniforms.

Officially kicking off the ceremony was the University of Florida’s Naval ROTC Color Guard, conducting presentation of colors, which was followed by the pledge of allegiance.

Leading up to the event, the school conducted an essay contest with a patriotic theme.  Kayla Tyndall’s essay, “Proud to be an American,” was the winning essay, and she recited it Wednesday for the 500-plus students in 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, staff and guests.

Colonel Jack Paschal, Commander of the 202nd RED HORSE Squadron, Florida Air National Guard, shared information about the Guard’s mission of providing homeland defense and hurricane recovery for the State. He also brought oversized plaques displaying photos of actual projects the Guard conducted, and asked student volunteers to carry the plaques throughout the audience so they could better see the photos.

Shane Moore led the students in singing “God bless the USA” and the enthusiastic youngsters waved miniature flags in the air.

The ceremony concluded with a moment of silence and the playing of “Taps” in honor and remembrance of the many veterans who served.

After the ceremony, Copeland invited veterans and their hosts to join her in the school’s cafeteria for a reception sponsored by the school’s Safety Patrols.