Lots of smiles and hugs were exchanged last week at Jones Middle School's Veterans Luncheon, where eighth-graders hosted around 100 members of the armed forces, including 33 World War II veterans.
The event was held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 2.
Debra Hadley, Jones Middle School PTO member, said the eighth-grade students attended a special assembly ahead of time to learn more about the different wars in which the veterans may have served.
The program at the luncheon included a presentation of colors, the pledge of allegiance, a moment of silence, performances by the Jones Chamber Orchestra and the Jones Choir and an introduction of each of the veterans.
Principal Shelly Hughes said she was moved when some of the veterans stood to sing "their song" as the choir sang all of the armed forces theme songs, one after the other.
"There is always something that moves me to tears at these luncheons," she said. "As our choir sang each of the different armed forces their signature songs, the veterans stood up and applauded. Some also sang along, as they might have done 50 years ago.
"It was just delightful to see and hear them singing along with our kids and it really moved me," she said.
Hughes said the veterans brought memorabilia from the various battles and missions they've experienced, such as uniforms and medals, which teachers displayed on a table.
"It was interesting to sit with the students and veterans," she said. "At one table, I talked to a gentleman who shared how his ancestors ended up in America. He had a Native American ancestor who married a French trapper, then after the trapper died, the Native American married a European artist who painted members of the royalty. They ended up settling in the New Orleans area.
"It was fascinating for the kids and got them thinking about finding out more about their own genealogy," she said.
Hughes said she moved from table to table, enjoying the interaction between students and veterans.
"The eighth-graders begin studying American history at the beginning of the school year and do a lot of research to prepare questions to ask the veterans," she said. "Eighth-graders will also travel to Washington, D.C., in the spring."
People forget that American soldiers are still overseas, fighting for freedom," Hughes said.
"It is so easy to forget our country is at war," she said. "I remember being in middle school and asking why my grandmother was saving every single twist tie that she took off a bag. She said it was a habit to save everything, because during World War II, they saved a lot of things, like (nylon) hose and bacon grease, because it was all for the war effort.
"I think an event like our luncheon is a great way for kids to get a firsthand experience with veterans and veteran concerns," Hughes said. "I think our kids will remember this day."
Hadley said two to three students were paired with each veteran at the luncheon, and the students had their photos taken with the veterans.
"Many of the veterans have been attending the luncheon for multiple years," she said. "Most are local, but some are in attendance from other states. The experience doesn't end with the luncheon -- each student will follow up with their assigned veteran with a thank-you note for attending the luncheon and will stay in touch during the year with Christmas and/or Valentine's Day cards as well."
Hadley said about 70 veterans attended the event last year.
"It's a wonderful way for the school, students and roughly 50 parent volunteers to honor those who have served in the armed forces, in recognition of Veterans Day," she said.
Hughes said the number of World War II veterans attending the luncheon each year is dwindling.
"Our old timers are getting few and far between," she said. "Most of our students were paired up with younger veterans this year, which is different than it has been for the past five years. We used to have mostly World War II veterans."