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Students salute heroes at WeHo Elementary School

By Aaron Blevins, 11/15/2012

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When the military color guard marched into West Hollywood Elementary School’s auditorium — using terms like “atten-hut” and “present arms” — the students’ awe was audible: Cool! Wow! Oh!

The flag salute was an important part of the ceremony. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

And that was the point. School officials and the Friends of West Hollywood Elementary School held a Veterans Day service last Friday, seeking to inform students about their families’ military history and the meaning behind being a veteran.

“It’s so critical,” said Elizabeth Goetchius, a Friends member who works in the VA hospital in West Los Angles.

She said she grew up as an “army brat,” though she always wished that her father, who fought in three wars, had pursued a different career, such as law. Now, Goetchius works in the West L.A. domiciliary program, which offers programs for residential treatment, combat trauma, substance abuse, severe and chronic mental illness and getting vets back to work.

“As I got older, I realized and appreciated the value that he gave to our society,” she said. “Through that, I realized I want my children, their friends — I want people to be aware. It’s not about politics. It’s just about supporting the veterans and letting people know who the veterans are, especially our Vietnam veterans. When you work with them, you really realize how much they suffered from the trauma of returning to a society that was not very supportive of them.”

The Vietnam veteran on hand on Friday received a hearty welcome. Carlton Griffin, a former fire control technician for the U.S. Navy who also works at the VA, was among the presenters, and he knew how to get a group of young people riled up.

“Bad news: You guys don’t have to come to school on Monday,” he said, and the students cheered mightily.

Griffin quizzed the students on the major branches of the military —– the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. He also asked the students what makes a person a veteran, and some students mistakenly thought that, perhaps, they were veterans due to their family’s military history.

“You have to serve for your country,” Griffin added.

He asked if there were any students in the audience who did not know a veteran. When a few hands in the auditorium went up, Griffin reintroduced himself. Then, he asked the question again, and still a couple students raised their hands. Griffin chuckled.

“I’m going to ask you to do one thing for a veteran this weekend,” he said. “It’s a very simple thing. I would like for you, each and every one of you, whoever you know that’s a veteran, when you see him or her let them know that you thank them very much for their service. Can you do that? Let me hear everybody in here say, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

Griffin said he simply wants children to know and understand what being a veteran is all about. He said it’s important that students realize that blood, sweat and tears went into making America “the greatest country in the world.”

“Most of them have friends or family members that have been in the service, and they may not fully understand what that’s all about,” Griffin added. “But when I look into the eyes of the kids and, like when the color guard came in, they were really excited about that. …You can just see their wanting to know. They have a lot of information about what the military’s all about, about what a veteran is, what you have to do.”

Teaching children about veterans is also helpful for the armed forces, he said. Griffin said that teaching students about the military may encourage some to sign up for service in the future.

“For them to show interest in it and to be inspired by the military early in their lives like this, it’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “It keeps our country strong, and you just can’t beat the joy you see in a young person’s eyes with wanting to know, wanting to learn, wanting to understand.”

Goetchius told the students that it’s important to learn about veterans because they often need the support of the country after they return home. She said it also puts in perspective the freedoms that Americans enjoy.

“[My boss] says to us, ‘You know what? We’re so fortunate because everyday we come to a job and we have a mission — a very, very special mission. And that mission is to serve and to care for and support with dignity and pride the men and women who have served in our armed forces.’ That gives me a tremendous sensibility to know that I’m providing support to people who have given so much to our country,” Goetchius added.

Principal Julia Charles gave the students a brief history of Veterans Day, which coincides with other holidays, such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day. She said it marks the anniversary of the Germans signing the armistice, which occurred on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Charles mentioned the annual observances at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Nicole French, whose children, Zoe and Evan, attend West Hollywood Elementary, sang the National Anthem. Their relative, Col. Evans Kranidas, was honored during the Veterans Day observance.

“Evan and Zoe’s grandfather, Col. Evans Kranidas, volunteered to join the Air Force and fly to Germany to fight the Germans in WWII,” Charles said. “He later trained the Flying Tigers, an American volunteer group trained to defend China, one of the United States’ allies during that war, against a potential attack by the Japanese. …On his last mission of the war — a top secret one — Col. Kranidas had to eject from his B24 Little Raider airplane over China. Members of the Flying Tigers each carried a … handkerchief with a message written in Chinese, asking anyone encountering them to offer help. Col. Kranidas was indeed helped by local Chinese people near the spot where he parachuted to a safe landing.”

She said Kranidas later joined the Marines and the U.S. Air Force, serving all over the world, including Vietnam, from 1955 to 1975. He received many medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross, and was laid to rest at Arlington with full military honors, Charles said. In a prior assembly, the school honored Goetchius’ father, Brigadier General Cutrona.

Lastly, the students gave Griffin a bag full of hand-made cards to share with the VA veterans. The staff also gave him a plaque and thanked him for serving the country.

“You’re very welcome, very welcome,” Griffin said.

 

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