A heartfelt tradition in Gilbert of honoring military veterans who made sacrifices throughout the years to protect the freedoms we enjoy today has become so large that it will continue to be held at a larger venue.
The 5th Annual Veterans Day Celebration hosted by the Higley Unified School District and Gilbert Hospital, which has received national attention for its size and scope, will begin at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9 on Higley High School football field, 4068 E. Pecos Road, Gilbert.
The program, which formerly was held at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts, is part of a Veterans Day celebration, and will include the student body’s ROTC members and numerous guest speakers who made notable contributions in the military.
For the second time, Rear Admiral James A. Symonds, who once commanded the USS Ronald Reagan, will be an honored speaker, as well as retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Valderrama.
Vaderrama, who retired after 31 years of service in 2003, served in a special unit trained to rescue the Americans taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran, an incident that is marking its 32-year anniversary on Sunday, Nov. 4.
The veterans event at Higley is being held as the ranks of the nation’s World War II veterans is rapidly depleting as more than 1,000 veterans often referred to as “The Greatest Generation” is dying off each day with an average age of 87, according to statistics from the Veterans Affairs Office in Washington, D.C.
The rapid loss of World War II veterans is causing the nation to turn more toward remembering its Korean War veterans, many of whom are pushing 80, and Vietnam War veterans who are well into their 60s.
In a statement issued by the school district, Higley Superintendent Denise Birdwell said, “Higley Unified School District is proud to host such a well-attended celebration to honor our veterans for their service, and remember those who have made the greatest sacrifice on our country’s behalf. Our annual celebration is an opportunity for our community, students, faculty and staff to thank our veterans for fighting for the freedom we so cherish — and to keep in our thoughts the American service men and women who remain in Afghanistan today.”
“We also greatly appreciate the support local businesses and community leaders provide us for this event,” Birdwell said. “This celebration is a lesson for our students about citizenship and service — values which our veterans and soldiers personify.”
Although the event will be marked with much colorful flare, not all veterans are as fortunate.
As large numbers of veterans have returned home from the Middle East, many of them have been unable to find jobs and the numbers of homeless veterans have increased in recent years.
To combat part of this, the nonprofit organization StandDown, which is a coalition of more than 30 community groups and veterans organizations that collects new and slightly-used clothing for homeless veterans and the shelters that serve them, will be set up at Friday’s event. For more information about StandDown, visit www.arizonastanddown.org.
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