— by Sam Gailey, Orcas Issues reporter —
For 98 years, Americans have remembered those who served our country in uniform by celebrating Veterans Day, and on November 9, at the Orcas Island Schools, students, teachers, administrators, and parents gathered to honor our brave veterans.
The high school gym was filled with island residents, ages ranging from five to ninety-five, everyone standing and offering their respects by singing The Star-Spangled Banner together to kick off the day’s festivities. Retired veterans in uniform and active military who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait, were treated by OISD students K through 12 with inspirational quotations of honor, followed by the elementary students singing a poignant rendition of In Service of Our Country.
Councilman Rick Hughes was present to personally thank our veterans for their service. He opened in jest, saying, “Superintendent Webb asked me to speak for twenty minutes, but I think I’ll keep it under two minutes instead.” After a moment of laughter, Hughes turned serious, pointing out that over ten percent of Orcas Island residents are veterans, and that the county has set aside a fund of one hundred thousand dollars to assist the local men and women who have served our country. Hughes finished his speech by turning to the veterans in attendance and thanking them for their service, and also expressed his appreciation to our other men and women in uniform: police and fire fighters.
The day’s keynote speaker was retired Thomas Fiscus of the United States Air Force, who served as Judge Advocate General of the Air Force.He thanked those in attendance for their applause, stating that, “There was a time when people didn’t applaud veterans. Thank you so much for this warm applause right now. It touches me deeply.”
Fiscus paced behind the podium, explaining to the students that there are over twenty million veterans in our country right now. As our Orcas kids processed that staggering number, General Fiscus shared a story from early in his military career. In his first Air Force mission in 1968, Fiscus was on board an aircraft that landed in Vietnam to drop off supplies and soldiers in a devastated part of the country.”The ground looked like the surface of the moon,” Fiscus noted. After a few days, and their plane ready to fly once again, Fiscus and his fellow pilots stepped aboard an empty aircraft. The audience grew quiet as Fiscus stopped pacing, took a moment to collect himself, then with his voice trembling, he explained that the aircraft wasn’t completely empty. “There were seven aluminum boxes on board. They looked so small. So lonely. Those men represented the very best of us.” Those boxes were the caskets that carried seven men who lost their lives in Vietnam. GFiscus concluded his story by admitting that this experience gave him a sense of purpose, “That I could be part of something bigger than myself.”
After a flag folding ceremony conducted by the High School Student Leadership Class and a touching tribute song, “Still in My Heart”, performed by the elementary students, the Orcas Island Community Band closed the assembly by playing the upbeat and patriotic “Washington Post.”
Next year, 2018 will mark the 99th year Americans have honored our vets, and once again, the Orcas Island School District will host this great tradition.