CLINTON – Work kept Ava Saltzman’s dad from attending the Veterans Day production in the Clinton School gym Wednesday morning.
“He worked for the Navy, but now he works for the railroad,” the 9-year-old Saltzman explained.
So Ava did the next best things to honor him and his fellow veterans.
She wore navy blue to school and sang “God Bless America” with the other students in Tim Rose’s fourth-grade class, accompanied by the middle school woodwind and percussion band. Saltzman joined all 188 K-8 students at Clinton in an ambitious, choreographed flag-waving routine to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever” to end the program.
Before that, though, she emerged as the class winner of an impromptu essay contest on Veterans Day.
“We only had, like, five minutes,” she said.
Punctuated liberally with exclamation points, Saltzman’s 100-word composition honored the military service of her father, Randy, and all others.
“We celebrate this day to honor them, the men and the women, the fathers or the mothers, uncles or aunts, cousins or friends!” she wrote. “We love them all. Some survived, some didn’t.
“For me, today is a special day and I wish for everyone to be safe on battle grounds! ... We thank you veterans who keep us safe for our human race! I believe that the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard tried their best! Love, Ava S.”
On a national day of wordsmithing, she said it as well as anybody.
Twenty miles to the west, Missoula’s American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 held a Veterans Day commemoration for the 34th consecutive year. Only a slight breeze blew and just a few snowflakes floated down onto the Missoula County Courthouse lawn. The temperature reached almost 40 degrees, making it one of the more comfortable in recent memory. Last year, the weather was so contrary the whole 90-minute affair was moved inside the courthouse.
Jon Tester, Montana’s senior U.S. senator, gave the keynote address shortly after unveiling his “State of Veterans in Montana” report around the corner in Missoula's City Council Chambers (see related story.)
That dovetailed nicely into this year’s theme beneath the Doughboy Statue at the courthouse: “So you think the battle is over?”
Tester hailed the additional $1.9 billion approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate for the Veterans Affairs medical care budget.
“I’m here to tell you that amendment passed unanimously, which simply doesn’t happen in the United States Senate,” he said.
But veterans need more than additional resources for the federal department, emphasized Tester, a ranking member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
"Our efforts to improve access to good health care and good education and quality housing and better paying jobs should be as unwavering as the commitment when we send these brave men and women to defend our nation," he said.
Dan Gallagher of Post 101 traced the differences between America’s words and actions in caring for her vets throughout history, beginning with the Declaration of Independence when the founders pledged "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”
“They committed themselves to the dangers that lie ahead ... and there was no turning back,” Gallagher said.
But they also committed the same mortality for every colonial soldier in the American Revolution, “and their heroism was just as sure and true.”
While they were praised after victory by no less than George Washington himself, those soldiers received little in the way of medical care or compensation for their suffering.
While thanking Tester for his commitment, Gallagher said today’s veterans hear the same song and dance.
“The history of America’s care and treatment of veterans is an abysmal one, and frankly, why would we expect it to be different today?” he said. “Veterans issues and veterans legislation have become political footballs to be kicked around when it’s to someone’s political advantage, and then left deflated when the campaign or media moment has passed.”
Back in Clinton, band and music teacher Erin Nevers directed an ambitious patriotic program for a crowd that included more than a dozen military veterans.
Two of them stood in the bleachers at attention as sixth-graders marching in formation on the Cougar logo at midcourt sang, unaccompanied, most if not all of the verses of the “Marine’s Hymn,” with the familiar opening line: “From the halls of Montezuma ...”
Others treated the crowd to Air Force, Army and Navy anthems, mixed with skits and poems. Kindergartners and first-graders teamed up with the seventh- and eighth-graders from the middle school choir for a rousing arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” which folded in the Pledge of Allegiance by the youngest students during the second verse.
Five eighth-graders, including Peter Nystrom, took turns reciting lines to a Veterans Day tribute poem.
Nystrom said afterward he memorized his opening bit in 15 minutes: “On the 11th hour of the 11th day of 11th month of 1918 an armistice, or a temporary stoppage of fighting, was declared between Allied nations and Germany in World War I. Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning in 1919, Nov. 11 became a federal holiday in 1938.”
The Nov. 11 program was “a new occurrence” for Clinton School, Nystrom said. He gave kudos to Nevers for pulling it off.
“I think it’s just really nice, and I think we just need to do it for the veterans in our community, to honor them,” he said. “It needed to be done.”