By the time it was concentration camp survivor Clara Kelly’s turn to take the microphone at Bellingham Christian School’s Veterans Day ceremony, she was nearly speechless.
“I could barely speak up there, I was so moved,” Kelly said.
Children sang renditions of patriotic classics, and video clips highlighted the sacrifices of the military under the backdrop of an American flag in a ceremony honoring veterans on Friday, Nov. 7, before the official holiday Tuesday. But for the veterans, the day was as much about sharing their story and educating younger generations as it was about being thanked for their service.
After the ceremony, Kelly joined two veterans to share stories with 60-plus students. Kelly, 76, was put in a Japanese concentration camp on Java with her family as a 4-year-old during World War II. She wrote a book about the experience called “The Flamboya Tree.” On Friday, she expressed gratitude for everyone who serves in the military.
“I would not be standing here if they had not come in time to take us out of that brutal, brutal camp,” Kelly said.
Ray Manning, 91, and Glenn Kirkbride, 90, both served during World War II and also spoke to kids about their experience. They’ve been to countless Veterans Day ceremonies, but they never get tired of it, they said, especially when the events are so well done.
“I’ve been to a lot of these things before,” Manning said. “This was the high point of all the events I’ve ever seen put on.”
Janet Drew, the event’s coordinator, said they began planning for the ceremony in the summer. During song rehearsals, Drew said they made sure students understood why Veterans Day matters. She said kids should thank veterans year round, not just during one day.
Drew said that Kelly, who currently lives in Bellingham, has spoken to students in the classrooms about her experience.
The ceremony included children personally thanking a veteran or current member of the military. One performance featured a student dancer, Gracelyn Hubbard, while soloist Nick Ivancovich sang “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a popular song for those serving overseas during World War II. Three other students emulated 1940s harmony singing group The Andrews Sisters.
Teaching students to celebrate those who served in the military doesn’t help only children, it helps the veterans feel better about their service, Drew said.
“I think it gives them hope in the generation that’s coming up and the America they leave behind,” Drew said.
Kirkbride expressed similar sentiments, yet he will always enjoy simply being recognized.
“It’s satisfying to realize that some people actually remember that we put our lives on the line,” Kirkbride said.