Lodi school event thanks veterans for their service
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.”
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.
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.