Returning soldier surprises son at CES Veterans Day ceremony

Published 9:59 am Thursday, November 9, 2023

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer 

CALERA – Calera Elementary School welcomed parents and veterans to their 2023 Veterans Day Assembly on the morning of November 7.

At the event, which saw all second-grade students attend in person and all kindergarten and first-grade students watch virtually, students began the ceremony by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem.

“I’ve worked with the second grade, we learned the Star Spangled Banner and we also learned the history of the song and about Francis Scott Key,” said Holly Smith, music teacher and the event’s coordinator. “We talked about what patriotism means and what the different branches of the military represent and what Veterans Day is for.”

Following the ceremony’s opening, the school welcomed the return of Joshua Panther in a last-minute addition to the event. Panther, the father of one of the second-grade students, surprised his son with a return from active service overseas and sat with him during the ceremony.

“I did four months in Jordan and Iraq and then did a little side trip into Syria but mainly Jordan and Iraq for the past four months,” Panther said. “He knew that I was coming home soon, but didn’t know when.”

A number of second grade students then led the assembly and welcomed a large number of guests that included parents and family members who have, or are still, serving the nation.

Several of the students had also been tasked with writing short essays which answered the question “What is a veteran?”. In all, eight students delivered their short essays before all students sang the song “My Country Tis of Thee”, which they had learned to recite for the event.

“They were actually very excited about it,” Smith said. “Especially when we talked about the War of 1812 and the Battle at Fort McHenry. I was able to pull that history into music class and the students got very excited about it. We talked about how to be respectful during the National Anthem and we also talked about different patriotic music on top of that.”

Following the essay recitals, the school asked all veterans in attendance to stand and make their way to the front of the room, where they were applauded by all in attendance. They then took the time to identify themselves, and their lengths of service as students presented them with a reception in their honor.

“We are honored to have local veterans visit with us today,” read one of the students. “Please make our veterans feel welcome.”

After the event’s conclusion, Panther and his son departed the lunchroom together with the intention of spending the rest of the day together.

“We’re going to check out,” Panther said. “We’re going to go get some lunch and some ice cream, I think. Then we might go home and play some Legos and some video games.”