By Sgt. Melissa Karnath, Defense Media Activity
History came to life in the form of three bus loads of aging gentle
men and their families for students and staff of Sheppard Air Force Base Elementary School, Texas during a veterans program, February 13, 2015.
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The throaty rumble of the Patriot Guard Riders’ motorcycles and the flashing lights of a police car escort announced the arrival of the buses carrying The Iwo Jima Battle Survivors and Family Association visiting the school as part of their final reunion. Students and staff lined the sidewalks and greeted the survivors with cheers, homemade signs and American flags.
“I came year after year, because this became one of my favorite events that I ever got to cover,” said Katie Crosby Holland, an Air Force wife and former TV news reporter, who first covered the survivors visiting the school eight years ago. “The reason that this is such a special event is because of the men and women who served so many years ago.”
Although many these veterans may walk a little slower or with walkers they carry themselves with the pride of having served their Nation and being labeled one of “America’s Greatest Generation.”
On February 19, 1945, three Marine divisions landed on the volcanic island Iwo Jima, now formally named Iwo To, which was defended by about 23 thousand Japanese, who fortified themselves in extensive tunnel systems, caves and hideaways throughout the island. The battle etched in the minds of Americans by the iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi.
“All the students that attend here are associated with the military in some way,” said Cindy Waddell, the principal of Sheppard Air Force Base Elementary School. “They have parents who deploy and parents who have fought for freedom. We want to honor those who have gone before them.
“We just want to make today really special for them.”
The program began with the Sheppard Choir singing the Star Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance led by the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Sixth grade students also read poems they had written for the program. Brig. Gen. Scott Kindsvater, commanding general of Sheppard Air Force Base, also spoke during the program.
“These men and women, who served during World War II, it is such an honor to have you here year after year,” said Holland. “You are national treasures, we will never be able to repay you for all your sacrifices.”
Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine veteran and the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Iwo Jima, spoke to the survivors, families, students and staff about miracles happening every day.
These men once trudged through the waves of the Pacific onto black volcanic sands meeting Japanese hostility with old-fashioned American grit and winning America a tactical foothold to allow aerial bombardment of mainland Japan ultimately ending World War II in the Pacific. They lived through this moment in history and they alone can share it with generations to come.
“I liked the school visit very much,” said Raymond Lueb, a Marine veteran and survivor from the battle of Iwo Jima. “Those kids were something else.”