Children waved small paper American flags high over their heads.
As the large fabric versions of the American and Tennessee flags were carried in, some children’s mouths dropped open as they took in the sight of men and women in tidy uniforms marching them to the front of the gym.
Teachers in the stands reminded some of the youngest students how to place their hands over their hearts when it was time for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Standing tall with hands on their hearts, some of them nearly shouted the pledge they had been practicing in school every day.
Park View Elementary School was marking Veterans Day. It was one of several such celebrations held at schools throughout Bradley County.
Guests ranging from parents to local government officials to — of course — veterans helped students and teachers fill the school’s gymnasium for its annual Veterans Day program, something Deb Bailey, the school’s principal, said was vital for children to learn in school.
“Patriotism is something that needs to be taught,” Bailey said in her opening remarks to guests. “I take it very seriously that it is our responsibility to teach patriotism.”
Addressing the veterans, she said the school was honored to have them there and thanked them for “allowing our children to see the great men and women who served our country.”
The program continued as the Bradley County Sheriff’s Honor Guard presented the flags andmany children stood still and watched.
After the Pledge of Allegiance, the school’s Noteworthy Knights Chorus led everyone in a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The honor guard returned to place the flags, before an invocation by Bradley Central High School Lindsey Armstrong and a poetry reading by fifth-grader Kayla Davenport.
Bailey introduced the event’s main speaker, Chris Quinn, who served in the U.S. Navy and is the children’s pastor at the school’s partner church, North Cleveland Church of God.
Quinn told students about how many branches there are in the military and shared his experience as an 18-year-old sailor living and working on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Indian Ocean.
Moving through a slideshow of photos on a screen behind the podium, he showed the children what it was like to get used to life on a ship and form friendships with American comrades.
“I look like a little kid, don’t I?” Quinn asked at one point while showing attendees a photo of himself.
Many children shouted in the affirmative, responding the same way they had been to any question of his that they could answer with an enthusiastic “no” or “yeah.”
Quinn explained to the students that sailors wore different colored jackets depending on their jobs. He also showed photos of airplanes and flight deck tractors like the one Quinn drove.
He said many of the veterans sitting in the gym had experienced more dangerous conditions than he had while serving, but explained that all who volunteered to serve made sacrifices in some form or another. He said all military personnel were deserving of thanks.
“Because they served, we have the freedom to be here today,” Quinn said.
He explained the military has changed drastically over the years and said the girls present would be interested in knowing there was once a time when women could not serve in any branch of the military.
Using going from one grade to another as an example, he told the students changes have happened in the military over the years — from changing gender ratios to different uniforms — have helped make progress toward a big goal of protecting the country just as students work toward the goal of graduating from high school.
He said he hoped everyone would still remember and respect those who had served in the military even as years pass and things continue to change.
“Let’s always be sure we thank the people who came before us,” Quinn said.
After another song from the choir, Bailey had all the veterans who could stand and share their names and the names of the branches in which they served so everyone could thank them then and there.