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Assembly connects vets and students

 

Jason Whalawitsa speaks at the Veterans Day Assembly at Lake Roosevelt Schools. - Jacob Wagner photos

Veterans young and old shared some of their thoughts about serving in the military with a gym packed with students as Lake Roosevelt Schools held their annual veterans' assembly last Thursday.

Elementary and junior-senior high school choirs and bands performed patriotic songs, such as "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," and the service songs for each branch of the military, as veterans from each branch stood for their song.

Ava and Ashlyn Sam, elementary-aged girls, sang a traditional Native American honor song.

About 50 veterans attended, each one introduced to the audience to applause and receiving a certificate of thanks.

A small handful of veterans spoke about their experiences while serving, and expressed gratitude for the assembly during an open-mic segment.

"I'd like to thank the students, the school; they've done this every year for us," said Harvey Moses, who was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1969. "It was really something else. The country of Vietnam is a beautiful country. We flew in helicopters, and we'd see the sunrise. We'd see the sunset. It was always green, unless we sprayed. It was quite the experience."

Jason Whalawitsa said the Marine Corps set him on the right path after community members had warned him he could end up in prison or dead.

"The Marine Corps changed my life," he said. "It sent me in a different direction. After I got out, I did almost 13 years in law enforcement. I was thankful for that. It really changed my life. I didn't want to be an addict or alcoholic, in prison or dead. It wasn't my time."

Whalawitsa, who attended LR, also spoke about the difficulty of returning home from service.

"When I returned home briefly in 2001, shortly after 9/11, I came back to Grand Coulee Dam. I was fortunate enough to have a young lady be my next door neighbor, and that was Mrs. (Josephine) Ayers here," he said, gesturing to the 90-something Marine also attending.

Whalawitsa said Ayers had helped him acclimate to civilian life again.

"That was real rough for me," he said. "A lot of people, like Commander (Rich) Black, helped me acclimate to civilian life, because a lot of people don't understand that when you get home you don't just turn back into dad, uncle, brother, whatever. It takes a long time. So I'm real grateful to the Lake Roosevelt community, my relatives, my aunts, my uncles, people I grew up with. Some of them are teachers now, I noticed. I'm real grateful to have you guys."

Instrumental in organizing the event was Sandy Hood, who teaches junior high at LR, and has put on the event for about 20 years.

Hood had seventh- and eighth-grade students in her class write letters to more than 200 veterans.

Jo Ayers receives a certificate of thanks for her service as a U.S. Marine sergeant.

"I want the students to feel the connection personally, to know that this person they wrote to did something for them personally," Hood said. "I'm trying to get them to understand it's like a stranger finds your wallet and returns it to you. They do something for you whether they need to or not."

Speaking about the veterans, Hood said, "They give the government a blank check, and they're willing to have it cashed, even for their life. Even if they enlist during peacetime, they know they can wind up fighting. They give up those years of their life; sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad, and they're never the same. It changes their whole perspective of the world."

Hood hopes the veterans walked away from the assembly with a sense that "our future is bright, and the generation coming up can take care of the legacy they've been given, and that it expands and includes more and more people."

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