“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!" Teacher Ron Lenggiere quoted poet Maya Angelo to begin the 15th Annual Veteran’s Day assembly at Rio Hondo School. Amidst the American flags and red, white and blue bunting, Lenggiere went on to say that the assembly theme this year was a “Salute to the Women of the Armed Forces”- women who have served our country from the Revolutionary War to the conflict in the Middle East.
The Rio Hondo Band and Chorus, under the direction of music teacher Maureen Henderson, performed the Star-Spangled Banner along with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines marches.
With flags representing each branch of the military as the backdrop, Kaelynn Lam and Alejandro Cisneros read their contest-winning entries explaining how proud they are of the women who have fought for our country. The same theme was displayed through winning posters created by Melissa Huynh and Allison Ro.
Fred Ortiz, Paratrooper (Vietnam), presented Rio Hondo with $250 from 173rd Airborne Brigade, Southern California, Chapter 14, to be used towards future school Veteran programs. Ortiz said, “We appreciate the hard work and effort of this assembly. When little kids present, that is sweet.”
Hugh Crooks, Board Member, Department of Veteran Affairs, who served in Vietnam, Army Infantry (’67-’69) said, “Our future is bright because Rio Hondo is the representative of that future. This school presents one of the best Veteran’s Day programs in the country.”
Other Veterans in attendance included:
Wambi Cook – Army, Purple Heart recipient and former El Monte High School District Principal
Manuel Vital, Army, 2nd Infantry, Korea and 101st Airborne, Kentucky
Art Castro, Navy, USS Missouri and USS Catamount, 1956 Operation Red Wing, Marshal Islands
J.R. Duarte – Army, 146th Aviation, Helicopter Mechanic, Los Alamitos
Robert Thome- Army, Medical, Japan ’65-‘68
Rudy Sanchez – Army, Infantry, Vietnam, ’67-‘68
Ernesto Morales – Navy, Aviation, Kitty Hawk, USS Nimitz ’89-’09 (Father of Rio Hondo 3rd grader, Mario Morales)
Lance Lawson – Veteran, Former Rio Hondo Principal
James Singleterry – Veteran, El Monte Police Department, EMCSD School Resource Officer
Rio Hondo Student Congress Representatives performed a skit entitled “Military-Jeopardy” written by Lenggiere. This parody of the popular Jeopardy game show provided a fun way for all attendees to learn more about Veterans and the military.
Each Veteran in attendance was honored and encouraged to say a few words to the crowd. Most acknowledged the school and gave thanks for being honored and recognized. Many of the veterans spoke of their fellow comrades whose lives were lost. It was an emotional time for some. Each was gifted with a quilted handmade coaster along with a coffee cup provided by the Rio Hondo Quilt Club. Mrs. Felicia Vasquez’s second grade students wrote letters and presented them.
Eleven bells were rung to symbolize the end of World War I and then Taps was played by trumpeters, Joshua Luutuyen and Giovanie Castro, accompanied by Abraham Chavarria on the drum, followed by a moment of silence.
The event ended with the chorus singing Thank You, Soldiers with the lyrics that included, “That we may wake each morning bright, and know that freedom rings, because of your great sacrifice, your country joins to sing.“
Rio Hondo Principal Alba Zamora-Day added, “I’m so appreciative of the teachers who put this assembly together. They work very hard and it would not be possible without them. It is so rewarding to see the Veterans’ surprise reactions to being recognized.”
Veterans and their families were treated to a luncheon in their honor provided by the Rio Hondo PTA.