A youthful salute
Local military veterans will pour into Reynolds High School on Thursday to be honored in an elaborate, precisely planned student-driven celebration.
From the welcoming large flags planted along the campus perimeter to the delicious lunch, emotional music and compelling assembly program, no detail is spared to make veterans feel appreciated and a bit awed.
"It's really nice what we do for the vets," said junior Alyssa Turng as she worked on decorations a week before the event. "They feel respected by us kids. It melts my heart."
Students from Reynolds' leadership, culinary arts, music, multimedia and Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps classes — and clubs such as National Honor Society, Key Club and other student volunteers — spend thousands of hours preparing for the event, held this year on Thursday, Nov. 7, in honor of Veterans Day Monday, Nov. 11. This is the ninth year Reynolds High has put on its "Living History Day," which celebrates veterans from World War II and the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars with the all-school assembly. It also invites the heroes into classrooms to talk about their service and experiences.
"I love to hear their stories," said senior Angeles Fraga, busily making patriotic paper chain decorations for the big day.
Chris Phelps, Reynolds High School activities director, said the school draws from a database of veterans to send invitations to each year. Veterans are encouraged to invite their fellow vets, and the school reaches out to organizations that serve them.
"Our database grows every year," Phelps said.
Wild blue yonder
A lot of work goes into the big day. Once the invitations go out, student leaders split into groups to manage the RSVPs and personally reach out to veterans who haven't responded. Many students work for several weeks after school and all day two Saturdays before the event.
"We have little amount of time to prepare it," said Ana Rangel, a junior who has worked on the project before.
From design state to installation, students fan out in the commons area and craft all manner of paper murals and other décor to liven up the lunchroom, gym, halls and other areas of the school in a patriotic theme.
Behind the scenes, student musicians rehearse for the assembly program. Instead of the entire choir as in years past, the elite a cappella choir — with about 20 additional singers — will perform.
They also will sing at the luncheon, encouraging each branch of the military to join them in the official song of their particular armed forces branch.
U.S. Navy veterans will be invited to join the Reynolds High Raiders singers in "Anchors Aweigh" and students will urge veterans from the U.S. Air Force to join them in singing "The Wild Blue Yonder."
The a capella choir also will perform the National Anthem at the assembly.
As in past years, the Raider band plans to play the traditional themes from each branch of the military as members of each branch walk into the assembly behind their military banners. For example, as the U.S. Army veterans come into the gym, they'll walk to a rousing version of "The Caissons Go Rolling Along."
The band practices the songs for several weeks prior to Living History Day.
"I really enjoy it," says senior Anne Marie Pruett, who plays clarinet. "I have a lot of veterans in my family, and it is a way to support them."
Campbell Huff, a senior who plays baritone saxophone, said the event "is a nice way to give back to our veterans in a respectful and honest manner."
Culinary students conceive and cook lunch for the hundreds of honored guests. Keeping in mind that some attendees will be older and may have dietary or dental issues, they calculate the amounts of each ingredient needed to feed the crowd and cook and serve the meals.
After thousands of hours of planning and decorating, there is still lots to do on event day. Student volunteers arrive before daylight.
"The morning of, we get here around 5:45 to set up everything. We drop the big flag from the ceiling (in the gym)," said Po San, president of the senior class council. "Then around 6:30, we change into our dressy clothes and do our hair and makeup. And then it's time to begin greeting the veterans around 7 a.m."
The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps plays a key role in the program by organizing, escorting and managing the veterans' speaking tours of the classrooms, making sure they have refreshments and are comfortable.
"The JROTC is one of the major planning groups in addition to the student government," Chris Phelps noted.
When all is said and done, veterans enjoy a memorable day in their honor while volunteers get rich experience in project management and students who hear the veterans in their classrooms get an up-close and personal feel for historical events.
"It's nice to have an event to show our appreciation," Po San said. "It's really meaningful."
Pruett is among Reynolds seniors lamenting that this will be their last year participating in the event.
"I'm definitely going to miss it," she said.
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