School honors those who served

There were smiles, there were tears and there was remembrance. Orcas school students and members of the community gathered in the high school gym on Thursday, Nov. 9, to honor the service of local veterans.

“It’s such a great thing to be a part of every year; to honor our veterans and teach our young people how important it is to remember this day,” said San Juan County Chairman Rick Hughes. “It’s a great honor to be here today with all the young people, community members, parents and distinguished veterans.”

The annual ceremony featured performances by the elementary school students, the high school band and strings and the Orcas Island Community Band. This year’s guest speaker was Tom Fiscus, a retired Air Force general.

“Thank you so much for coming today to honor veterans,” said Fiscus. “To have so many of you applaud and say thank you means so much more than you can possibly know to any of us who spent time in the military long ago.”

Fiscus shared a memory with the audience about his first trip to Vietnam. He said that cadets were not supposed to be going on missions, but that his aircraft commander allowed him to come along.

“While we had flown in with a cargo full of personnel and equipment, we flew out almost empty. I say almost because our cargo was seven aluminum boxes. That’s all. Seven aluminum boxes containing the remains of seven brave Americans,” said Fiscus, who paused as his voice began to crack. “Those boxes looked so small, they looked so lonely. But they represented the best of us.”

Both Fiscus and Hughes spoke of respecting and honoring those who have served.

“To all the veterans, thank you very much. Thank you for your service,” said Hughes. “It’s important to realize the service that people have done and how important it is that they’re part of our community.”

Fiscus said that when people think of veterans, they think they served because of the stars, the stripes, the ribbons and medals. It’s more than that, he said: it’s the individuals’ heroism and willingness to defend the constitution and other Americans’ rights and freedoms.

“That is part of it, of course. But really, what is important is the fact that when veterans come home we need to embrace them. I would ask you to never give that up. Please keep that in your hearts at all times. In fact, that’s what makes it worthwhile,” said Fiscus. “The ribbons and the medals, they don’t really count .. What counts is that they did it for you and I think true Americans will always do it for you.”