The Veterans Day Assembly took place on November 15, four days after Veterans Day.
Students of MHS had been preparing for the assembly all week. Each class was assigned a branch of the military to research and represent. Seniors were given the Army; juniors the Air Force; sophomores the Navy; and freshmen the Marine Corps.
During Mav20, students were tasked with researching a fallen Vietnam Veteran from Colorado. Every single Veteran was researched and represented on Mead’s very own Memorial Wall.
A Wall of Honor was also constructed, showing the names and faces of Veterans who are dear to the Mead Community—roughly 90 members of our friends, family, and other loved ones.
“What makes this assembly so special,” said Mr. Chad Lemons, “was Holskin’s plan for Mav20 and what made it impactful for me was getting to research actual Veterans from Colorado and getting to see them as a part of our community.”
Fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, and friends were welcomed into the gym to be honored for their service to their country.
Mead was expecting to welcome roughly 100-150 Veterans into its halls today, according to Mr. Ben Holskin.
“The chance for kids to see how many of their community have served is amazing,” said Holskin. “We don’t always see it until it’s right in front of us.”
Timothy Biddison and Boston Hastings, both of whom are recruiters, are active members of the Navy.
Biddison left for basic training in February of 2009. “It was an opportunity to travel and see every part of the world.”
But coming home was another great part of the service. Both men agreed that some of the best things about coming home were being back on American soil, sleeping in their own bed, drinking an American beer, and having real bacon.
Officer John Chamberlin was a K9-MP in the army from 1987 to 1990. He said that it was his “first chance to be a dog handler.”
He enlisted into the army because he “couldn’t afford to go to college otherwise and it got [him] closer to [his] goal of being a police officer.” He is now employed by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.
Hugh McGinty is a World War II Veteran. He was a tail gunner in the Air Force when it was still called the Air Corps. He enlisted in January 1941 when he was 18. He lied about his age, saying he was 19, so his brother, who was 17, could enlist with him and claim to be 18. He was brought into the 324th Squadron, 379th Bomb Group, Eight Army Air Force at Kimbolton Village, Midlands, England. He served there for 22 years.
During his time in the war, McGinty served in the Berlin airlift. “I fed 2,200,000 people by air when the Russians blockaded Berlin,” he said, pointing to a book he’d written about his life. “People were basically starving and we fed them.”
The assembly was begun as students welcomed the Veterans into the gym through a gauntlet in which they were clapped in. Holskin began the assembly by introducing himself to the honored guests and as a Veteran of the Army himself, earning applause from the audience.
He thanked the Veterans for the example they set for us all before handing the floor to the orchestra and Vance Brand Cadet Squadron comprised of Cadet Technical Sergeant Ryan Dugger, Cadet Captain Caleb Parker, Cadet Major Memphis Thomas, and Cadet Technical Sergeant Elle Bowman for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the Colors.
Upon their completion, Holskin acknowledged the different branches of service, including first responders. He described the services that they provided and called them “indispensable.”To further honor each branch of the armed forces, the MHS choir performed a medley of each branch’s service song, giving their thanks to the Veterans in attendance.
Following their performance, Holskin discussed what the students had done to support the Veterans. By selling the MHS Veterans Day shirt, students “raised over $1,500 to donate to local Veteran organizations.”
In addition, Malia Harton (‘21) organized and took on the task of gathering friends to write letters and deliver them to the “honored guests here today.” She and other students hand-delivered these letters to the Veterans in the audience.
“We’d been planning it since August,” said Harton. “I asked all the history teachers in the school district including their principals to have their classes write “thank you letters” to the Veterans and then I invited like 50 veterans to the assembly. We handed out 182 letters and I’m planning on handing out more today or tomorrow. Everyone in our district wrote one for this.”
As the letters were handed out, Holskin continued to say that “more than half of our student population and staff is either directly related or indirectly related to a member of our armed forces.” Knowing that so many of the school’s population has ties to the armed forces puts it into perspective. Veterans are a keystone in the community and are loved and cherished.
Holskin then gave the floor to Mr. Jeff Wilkinson, father of students Brian and Jessica Wilkinson, former Captain in the Air Force, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and our keynote speaker.
Wilkinson detailed his “service life” for the audience, discussing why he enlisted and what he did in his service. “It was my honor and privilege to serve each and every one of you in the audience,” he said. He said he’s proud of his service and proud of the assembly today and that it also included First Responders who are a “rare breed.”
He talked about his time in the service saying that “[he] didn’t shoot at anybody and [he] never carried a gun.” He worked in programming and accounting, helping coordinate missiles. “I measure my success [in the Air Force] by how many lives I saved,” he said. “I am very proud of the lives that I saved.”
He stepped down from the podium to give the floor to the band. After a brief history of “America the Beautiful,” given by Chloe Reed (‘20), the band played the song while the audience as encouraged to “take a moment to reflect.”
Following the band’s performance, Holskin took the floor once more to close the assembly.
He discussed with the audience three less well-known stories but still as equally important as all the other famous stories of war. These stories included ones about the Navajo codes and their importance in WWII, a nurse that tended to enemy POWs just as carefully as she tended friendly soldiers, and an Iraqi interpreter who befriended an American soldier right after 9/11. Each story held power in and of itself and led Holskin to his final point: unity.
Using these stories, he begged the question, “Could you?”
Could you aide those who have hated you? Could you love and help an enemy? Could you, against all odds, befriend a stranger?
He asked could we do this with our neighbors? Could we unite with strangers to become the next greatest generation?
He challenged the audience to “think about what it could mean for you to be part of a great generation” before saying that maybe he didn’t have the authority to issue that challenge. He brought up James Norman Mattis, a Veteran and former Secretary of Defense who spoke to everyone when he said: “Hold the line.”
“If you have one political view and your neighbor has the opposite, I challenge you to find something that ties you together rather than tears you apart. Hold the line,” said Holskin.
“If you attend church and your neighbor attends mass, or synagogue, or a mosque, or doesn’t attend at all, I challenge you to find something that ties you together rather than tears you apart. Hold the line.”
“If you are white and your neighbor is black, or Latino, or Asian, or you don’t really know, I challenge you to find something that ties you together rather than tears you apart. Hold the line.”
“If you are straight and your neighbor is gay, or bi, or trans, or doesn’t identify, I challenge you to find something that ties you together rather than tears you apart. Hold the line.”
“If you are all good, but your neighbor is hurting, I challenge you to find something that ties you together rather than tears you apart. Hold the line.”
Looking at the audience after this final challenge, he said, “I’ve been asking ‘could you.’ I know you can. You can be a part of the great generation. You can hold the line.”
At the end of this powerful speech, Holskin handed the floor to Ashton Steele (‘23), who would play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, and Jake Kime (’20), who would play “Taps.”
“This is one of the most meaningful days we could have and honor,” Holskin said right before he closed out the assembly, letting the Veterans leave first with the standing ovation they’ve clearly earned.
Mead High School wishes to give its thanks to all the men and women who have served our nation. We are honored to have been protected by you and we thank you for all you have given.