Lahontan Elementary School honored its veterans yesterday during its longtime annual Veterans Day program, which included a hot breakfast, performances by the students and a guest speaker from the Navy.
“It’s special, especially for the kids,” said Clara Pilarski, a military spouse with three young children whose husband, Michael, of 16 years is retiring after 21 years of service. “It kind of teaches them to appreciate the military — they’re a part of it.”
The event is coordinated by Army veteran and first-grade teacher Kieren Kalt, who has been organizing the Veterans Day celebration for more than 20 years.
“I feel that students should learn about Veterans Day and the sacrifices men and women have made for us to live in a free and prosperous country,” Kalt said. “Men and women (who) sacrifice their lives should never be forgotten and respected.
Active duty and retired veterans from the various branches including the Navy, Army and Marine Corps were in attendance as well as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Color Guard.
“It’s a first and hopefully many more to come,” said sailor Blythe Paxton of attending with her daughter Zoey, 5. Paxton is a Navy petty officer third class who works on F-18 computer systems, and her husband is a corpsman.
Margaret St. Andre’s kindergarten class sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and two students led the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a Navy officer as guest speaker. Two students also said in their own words what Veterans Day means to them, recognizing military dogs too.
“We really appreciate it; it means a lot,” said Navy Seaman Dyan Allen, who also volunteers at the school.
Fellow volunteer and Navy Airman Keila Snyder agreed and said being in the classrooms is her favorite part of volunteering.
Students had the hallways decorated with posters, pictures and thank you notes, and Kalt said service members are given tokens of appreciation. She added that they’re also working on sending holiday care packages to Nevada National Guard units in Kuwait and other countries.
Six-year-old Xavier Cowart said he was proud of his dad. His father, Sebastian, serves the Navy as a second-class petty officer, and his prior tour was in Africa before being stationed at Naval Air Station Fallon. The Cowarts will be moving again in a couple months, but they don’t know to where yet.
“We serve them breakfast as teachers and people in the community,” Kalt said of the celebration. “Being a veteran, I just feel the sooner the better the kids can learn about and appreciate Veterans Day.”
She noted that strong military-supporter Gov. Brian Sandoval had made it mandatory the state honor the Veterans Day holiday with the day off.
“It’s really enlightening to see that I’ve inspired some of them to go into the military,” Kalt said of her patriotic approach in the classroom and encouraging students to pursue the free education.
Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, established in 1918 toward the end of World War I. The day marked the armistice (a truce) signed between the Allies and Germany for the cessation of hostilities on the western front. The agreement took effect at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. The day has been observed as Veterans Day since 1954.
Pat LeClaire, president of the West Coast Fleet Reserve Association, and his wife, Loraine, as well as their six-year-old great-granddaughter, Bailee, were in attendance and enjoyed the breakfast and festivities. LeClaire retired from the Navy in 1987 after 21 years, including taking his family of four — soon to be five — to Japan to serve on the USS Midway, which is now a museum in San Diego.