Lodi school event thanks vet­er­ans for their ser­vice

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Bea Ahbeck

A large Amer­i­can flag, lit up by the ris­ing morn­ing sun, greeted vis­it­ing vet­er­ans ar­riv­ing at Vinewood El­e­men­tary School on Fri­day morn­ing. They were in­vited by stu­dents of the school to be hon­ored and thanked for their ser­vice to their coun­try.

As stu­dents sur­rounded the stage, af­fec­tion­ately re­ferred to as the “cake top,” prin­ci­pal Norm Tanaka thanked ev­ery­one for com­ing and made some open­ing re­marks. He ex­plained the dif­fer­ence be­tween Vet­er­ans Day and Me­mo­rial Day — Vet­er­ans Day be­ing a day to honor those who served and came back home, and Me­mo­rial Day to honor peo­ple who served and did not come home.

He also quoted the mil­i­tary code of con­duct, fo­cus­ing on Ar­ti­cle 1, which reads: “I am an Amer­i­can, fight­ing in our forces which guard my coun­try and our way of life. I am pre­pared to give my life in their de­fense.”

“To me, that’s a hero,” Tanaka said. Af­ter his open­ing re­marks he in­tro­duced a spe­cial guest, Daniel Faith, who is the prin­ci­pal of Wash­ing­ton El­e­men­tary in Lodi. Faith served for 25 years in the mil­i­tary, four years of those in the Navy, and 21 years in the Army Re­serve. He com­manded the Bravo Com­pany for seven years and re­tired in 2005.

Faith ex­plained to the stu­dents what vet­er­ans are.

“We all served in the mil­i­tary, and that’s why we are vet­er­ans. We all have a code and a pledge we made to our coun­try to fight for our free­dom. Now as vet­er­ans we are pro­po­nents for free­dom and we have to fight that fight every day.”

Faith brought with him some of his old mil­i­tary equip­ment and re­cruited a stu­dent to try it on. He asked an­other stu­dent, Mia Wind­ham, to hold a flag, which rep­re­sented the com­pany he served.

While stu­dent Dae­jon Storey dis­played the equip­ment, Faith ex­plained what the dif­fer­ent pieces were. Storey wore Faith’s kevlar hel­met, which Faith ex­plained is used to pro­tect the sol­diers out in the field. Storey also tried on a util­ity belt.

At­tached to the belt were ammo pouches, a can­teen, lights to see at night, and med­i­cal equip­ment.

Faith capped off his speech by thank­ing all the at­tend­ing vet­er­ans for their ser­vice, and en­cour­aged the stu­dents to give them a big round of ap­plause.

Af­ter the demon­stra­tion, the vet­er­ans were wel­comed up on stage and in­tro­duced them­selves, what branch they served in, and the stu­dent who had in­vited them.

One of the vet­er­ans was Brandi Gomez, who was in­vited by her sons Mar­cos Gomez, 6, who is in first grade, and Ce­sar, 9, who is in fourth grade.

Gomez spent 11 years in the U.S. Navy. She was sta­tioned on the USS Briscoe in 1998 when John F. Kennedy Jr. was buried at sea at Martha’s Vineyard, and in 2000 she trans­ferred to the USS Roo­sevelt. Af­ter 9/11 she was de­ployed to the Mediter­ranean Sea. Af­ter ac­tive duty she served as a re­serve, and was de­ployed to Kuwait for six months in 2004.

Fri­day was her first time at the Vinewood event.

“It’s a great way for stu­dents to learn to ap­pre­ci­ate what the mil­i­tary does,” she said. “Es­pe­cially for stu­dents who are not around mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and don’t know what con­tri­bu­tions they make, and what other chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence.”

David Gilling­wa­ter, whose great grand­fa­ther died af­ter be­ing ex­posed to mus­tard gas dur­ing World War I, was an­other vet­eran hon­ored. He served for three years in the Army and was within hours of be­ing shipped to Le­banon. “We just do it, he said of his ser­vice. “I’ll go back in again, just tell me when you need me.”

The event was emo­tional for the vet­eran. “I made my­self one prom­ise, and it was not to cry,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. "I didn’t make it.”

NEWS-SEN­TINEL PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY BEA AHBECK

Ma­rina Montes, Army Mas­ter Sgt., holds daugh­ter, Vi­viana, 5, as she and her hus­band, Car­los Montes, Chief War­rant Of­fi­cer, salute dur­ing the “Pledge of Al­le­giance,” at Vinewood El­e­men­tary School in Lodi on Fri­day.

Dae­jon Storey re­acts as he wears Wash­ing­ton El­e­men­tary Prin­ci­pal Daniel Faith’s old gear, as the Army and Navy vet­eran speaks as vet­er­ans are hon­ored for their ser­vice dur­ing a cer­e­mony at Vinewood El­e­men­tary School in Lodi on Fri­day.

BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SEN­TINEL

Navy vet­eran Brandi Gomez, holds son Mar­cos Gomez, 6, as she wipes away a tear as vet­er­ans are hon­ored for their ser­vice dur­ing a cer­e­mony at Vinewood El­e­men­tary School in Lodi on Fri­day.

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