Colfax High School students hear veterans’ stories of sacrifice
Students seated in the bleachers of the gym at Colfax High School rose to their feet, clapping and chanting “U-S-A!” to welcome The Sacrifice Tour to the school on Tuesday.
For the next hour, the students, who were joined by veterans of the armed forces invited to the assembly as guests, heard from a series of speakers that included General Robert Hipwell, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Army; Jason Gieser, a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident after completing his service; and Patty Schumacher, a Gold Star Mother whose son, a Marine, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.
The goal of the assembly was to help students understand the sacrifices made by those who have served in the county’s armed forces — and why students have a day off each November to honor those efforts.
“Kids have a skewed idea of what a role model is, what a hero is,” said Mark Soto, the founder and chief executive officer of The Honor Group, the nonprofit responsible for The Sacrifice Tour. “It’s not Batman, it’s not Superman. We believe it’s the men and women of the armed forces.”
Soto, whose son is a veteran, started The Honor Group in 2010 to both empower veterans to transition into civilian life and to educate the general community on the needs of active or retired military members.
In addition to traveling to schools to put on the assemblies, the nonprofit also organizes an annual high school football showcase, The Honor Bowl, to fundraise for and bring attention to the country’s veterans.
Colfax High Principal Paul Lundberg has known Soto for several years, and thought the assembly would be a valuable experience for the students.
“I just feel like Veterans Day is a day they just see as a holiday, and they don’t understand the meaning behind it,” Lundberg said. “It’s a nice way to educate kids to understand what the significance of tomorrow is all about.”
Students heard a variety of different perspectives from those who served in the military or had family members who did.
Hipwell spoke of feeling survivor’s guilt after a group of soldiers died on a mission during the Vietnam War, but his group survived.
Gieser encouraged students to follow their passions, and not let their struggles define them.
Schumacher held back tears as she told students about her son Victor Dew, a high school football player who aspired to join the Marines at a young age.
Just a few weeks after his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, Dew, who was engaged to be married, was killed instantly when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.
“He sacrificed his future, his wedding, his fiancée, his future family,” Schumacher said.
And his family members have also known sacrifice since his death, she said.
“We no longer have his hugs, laugh and smiles,” she said. “We can no longer pick up the phone and hear his voice.”
The message of the assembly resonated with Colfax High junior Nick Brown.
He said the wars the country has been involved in can feel far removed to many of his peers, and the assembly helped them better understand what the country’s veterans have experienced.
“A lot of people our age lose track of the gravity and how heavily people were affected (by wars),” he said, adding, “You realize how courageous the people who serve their country are.”
Parker Franscella, a sophomore at Colfax High, also said the assembly had an impact.
“I’ll definitely take it with me, honor (veterans) a lot more, really thank them,” she said. “They’re putting their life on the line, and their family’s happiness.”
Many of the students, encouraged by Lundberg, stopped on their way back to class to shake hands with the veterans who attended the assembly.
Jerry Long, one of those veterans, enjoyed the experience.
“It’s kind of surprising to see the spirit of the youngsters” and their attention to the speakers, said Long, 72, a member of the Scottish American Military Society who served in the Army from 1966-1973. “We just felt quite honored to be here.”
He said the message communicated by The Sacrifice Tour doesn’t focus on politics or on the pros and cons of combat, but on the individual soldiers and the stories behind their service.
“It’s important to put a human face on war,” Long said.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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