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Paris event builds appreciation for vets

Middle school students in Paris know the significance of Veterans Day, and they take it seriously.

After the school’s third annual Veterans Day Celebration program, any participant would leave with little doubt that the next generation in Paris honors and appreciates its veterans. With words from U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, students realize the harsh realities of a world that will call for them to serve in the military as well.

“War will be with us for as long as human beings remain capable of doing evil things,” Cotton said. “And that means that each generation of Americans needs warriors to step forward, to ensure that we can continue to live in freedom and enjoy the blessings of equality and opportunity and prosperity that we have had for over 200 years.”

Nearly 100 veterans of foreign wars, from World War II to the most recent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, attended the event hosted by the staff and 350 students Monday.

“It builds a strong appreciation of what vets mean and do for us,” said Veterans Day Celebration coordinator Ellen Phillips, an eighth-grade teacher at the school.

With a theme of “Your Story, Our Freedom,” the program was born out of a sixth-grade literacy class taught by former teacher Nicole Gilliam, and melds social studies, history, writing and videography. Many of the veterans the students interview go on to become mentors at the school. A contest is held for the best project, with gift certificates of $50 and $25 going to the first- and second-place winners.

Letters to the veterans thanking them for their service were left on the tables in the lunchroom, like one from seventh-grader Mattie Jarrard, who says “You guys are the real deal. Instead of celebrities or athletes, I think you guys are the real idols. The Heroes. I appreciate everything you have done for us.”

From eighth-grader Steven Vang, a poem began, “When America is in trouble, These brave men raised their hands, In order to help their world, They sacrificed their lives, To save other people.”

In addition to speeches by U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., Cotton and Jason Smedley, military liaison from Gov. Mike Beebe’s office, a variety of presentations were made at the auditorium such as a catchy original song performed on acoustic guitar by Payton Forbis and Kenleigh Robertson to express their thoughts of being Americans and thanking the veterans for the sacrifices made.

Also taking part in the presentation were Emily Alberson, Aaron Anteski, Alyssa Cunningham, Bethany Miller, Ashton Patton, Jared Varnell and Avery Williams.

Many of the speakers, both during the lunch and in the auditorium, made a point to thank the veterans, but also veterans’ family members who also made sacrifices during times of deployment.

“I’ve learned that being in the military is not just for those that are serving and enlisted, but it’s also for the families,” Boozman told the students. “I understand how difficult it is when mom or dad can’t come home for extended periods of time. So, besides those of you who have served, thank you, but also thank you so much to your families for all you have done and continue to do.”

Boozman said Americans should think of their veterans every day since “we are a nation at war right now.” We should take a break from our lives to “recognize the tremendous sacrifice of our veterans.” He encouraged students to thank a veteran, “say a prayer, but also pat them on the back, because they were there for us and we should be there for them.”

Smedley encouraged veterans who were “frustrated with the system” to push through with the paperwork and seek assistance because the nation has an “obligation to prove” to them that their service was “not in vain.” And to the students he said “don’t grow up too quick.

“We want you to enjoy this time now,” Smedley said. “Focus on your education, and I encourage you to find ways to say thank you to your veterans.”

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