U.S. military veterans were honored with applause and a surprise visit via Skype that brought together mother and son as part of an emotional Veterans Day event Friday morning that reached across the world from the gym at Northside Middle School to a military outpost in Afghanistan.
Thanks to a big-screen video connection broadcast to 200 students, Army Spc. Jordan Adams, 23, of the 96th Aviation Support Battalion deployed from Fort Campbell, Ky., got to say hello to his mother, Linda Toppe, a special education teacher at Northside.
Adams was caught off guard.
“Someone pulled him out of formation and said, ‘The colonel wants to see you.’ He thought he was in trouble,” Toppe said later. After a mumbled, emotional hello and best wishes, it was mom who gave the orders. “Get back to work, son,” she said as Northside students, guests and teachers cheered approval.
It was all part of a special convocation of students arranged by Mark Owens, seventh-grade social studies and drama teacher at Northside.
For several years, the school has celebrated with veterans a few days before the Nov. 11 holiday to recognize their military service.
“With Veterans Day coming up Sunday, I appreciate the time that Mr. Owens put in to pull this together. It was emotional. There’s a lot of pride in my family about Veterans Day. My dad, grandfather and brother were all in the military,” said Keith Dixon, a former captain in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who served overseas in the 1991 Desert Storm conflict with Iraq.
Dixon, husband of Northside Principal Amy Dixon, was among several veterans attending the school’s pre-Veterans Day event. They all were asked to stand and receive the school’s recognition.
Then, Owens asked any student with a family member currently in the service to stand. About 25 percent got to their feet in the bleachers at the gym. When the social studies teacher asked for all to stand who had relatives who were veterans, about 90 percent rose in unison.
Owens said he was pleased the 30-minute program came off so smoothly with a school choir singing military songs, a color guard and readings of veterans’ letters home from wars dating from the Civil War to the present.
The seventh-grade teacher said he sees Veterans Day as one of the most important holidays.
“I think it’s important because I consider veterans and active-duty military men and women the most important people in the country,” Owens said. “They put their life on the line. I don’t think they’re honored enough.”
The Northside video session also featured a thank-you from Lt. Col. Benjamin S. Bahoque, commander of the 700-member 96th Aviation Support Battalion. Bahoque, now on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, had one word to describe Northside’s show of pride in the military.
“Awesome,” he said.
Toppe said Northside students have long supported military men and women. This year, students are working on 400 holiday stockings that will be sent to Fort Campbell, Ky., and then on to Afghanistan to the 96th Aviation Support Battalion.
Owens said all the support recognizes that veterans risk their lives for America.
Those emotions echoed through many of the letters that Northside students read from soldiers who fought in combat for the nation through the years.
One Civil War-era letter home recited aloud at Northside included these lines from a soldier who later died during battle in the summer of 1861.
The 19th century veteran, Sullivan Ballou, wrote his wife: “The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
“Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure, and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine, dear God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.”