Dennis Beeghly returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s, but his hero's welcome came much later - Thursday at a Veterans Day Ceremony at Seeliger Elementary School.
"We wanted to honor him," said fellow teacher Dan Brown. "He's our celebrity for the day."
As the assembly began, Beeghly watched from the back of the cafeteria standing near his fifth-grade students. Soon after the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," military slides were shown from the Vietnam era and many of them featured the Reno-born man.
A small smile crept over his face.
Beeghly's grandfather served in the Spanish-American War, Beeghly's father served in World War II, and Beeghly followed that tradition.
"I didn't have any of those situations where I felt negative about the military," he said. "I thought it was part of being an American to serve your country."
The slides began to outline facts about Beeghly's military service - that he lost 25 pounds in his first three months at Vietnam, that his primary responsibilities were fixing weapons and building roads and that he was promoted to operations sergeant for the 3rd Infantry Division, which is now serving in Iraq.
Then his wife, Linda, a teacher in the Washoe County School District, appeared. And Beeghly was being honored as Seeliger's American Hero. A large mock medal was placed over his head.
"I think it's wonderful," said Linda. "He truly deserves it. He really does feel that it was important to serve his country. It was something he was proud to do even though it was a tough time in our country. I think this makes up for how things were at the time."
While many of Beeghly's colleagues know little about his time in the service, several of his students have heard about his experience - and the mortars that flew overhead.
"He was very brave to go to war," said student Allie Davis. "I think it makes him very proud to be honored."
Beeghly, who joined the service in 1969 at 19, served in Vietnam and West Germany before being discharged in 1972. He said he received an early discharge because President Richard Nixon was trying to downsize the forces in Europe.
Although Alice Fisher, a fourth-grade teacher at Seeliger knows little about Beeghly's time in the service, she knows patriotism is top of his priorities.
"I think it's wonderful for him to be honored," she said. "It's so cool because you know these guys didn't get a lot of publicity when they got back. He is just very patriotic and he's a true red, white and blue. He's all American."
For Beeghly, patriotism means promoting social studies and democracy in the classroom. And he publicly acknowledged all teachers who do so as the true heroes.
"Every day (that teachers) go into the classroom and do that, they make this world a better place," he said.
Beeghly, who went back to school in the 1990s to seek his teaching credentials, was laid off during Southern Pacific Railroad cutbacks some years ago. He has taught at Seeliger for the past three years.
"I think our understanding (of democracy) today has been reduced to magnets on the back of people's cars," he said. "I think that's a sad statement. But then every day in the classroom there are people teaching social studies to children to help them realize the freedoms that we have."
-- Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.