Amid cannon fire, flyovers and parachutists, the Higley Unified School District honored many veterans during its Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 8 — one of several events in the East Valley to recognize those who have served.
Hosted by Higley High School, the district recognized locals and others who have served in and out of battle in every branch of government during its sixth-annual event. The ceremony, littered with Higley High students, veterans and members of the public, included a lap around the school’s track by veteran motorcyclists, a flyover from four World War II-era planes, three parachutists who dropped in on the ceremony with the nation’s and Arizona’s flags, and repeated shots from old Civil-War style canons.
“It is the sound of freedom we hear today,” said Superintendent Denise Birdwell of the repeated canon shots.
Birdwell said the district’s ceremony is one of the largest of its kind in Arizona, and she said it started as a way to teach students about patriotic values and what being a soldier means.
This year’s event also acted as a memorial of sorts to Col. James A. Miller — a World War II veteran who died earlier this year. Back in 2011, Higley presented Miller with a flag for his service — this year’s event saw three veterans receive a flag — and he attended the ceremony in previous years.
“He’ll always be remembered as a special part of Higley,” she said.
Higley Unified School District Governing Board President Denise Standage broke down during her speech as she remembered her father who served during World War II, while Higley High Student Body President Morgan Getts focused her speech on the idea that veterans deserve more than one day of recognition.
Fellow speaker Rear Admiral James Symonds used his time to recognize Vietnam veterans who he said had not received a proper level of recognition until recently. He said those veterans, along with the people who have and are still serving in other engagements, are the people who ensure Americans can continue express their freedom in multiple ways.
“All these things we take for granted, and people in other parts of the world don’t receive, we owe to our military,” he said.
The main speaker at Friday’s event was Lt. Col. James Megellas — a 96-year-old veteran of World War II who was a nominee for the Medal of Honor and is the most decorated member of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Megellas spoke about what Veterans Day has meant to him since he would watch Civil War veterans march during what was known as Armistice Day when he was a child, and his own experiences serving during World War II. He added one of the goals he started to pursue later in life was to undercut a perception of war he said was too lionized.
“War is the most brutal form of human endeavor; it is not to be glorified,” he said.
Higley’s event was one of a few held to recognize veterans in the East Valley, as the Town of Gilbert held its own ceremony the previous day. the annual Valley Veterans parade on Saturday.
Mesa will host the annual Valley Veterans Parade on Saturday starting at 10 a.m., and he Tempe Veterans Day Parade is scheduled for Veterans Day beginning at 10 a.m.
The latter event will travel northbound along Mill Avenue from ASU Gammage to Rio Salado Parkway and will honor World War II veterans and others who have served, and will include participation by the Girl and Boy scouts, marching bands, ROTC organizations and others.
Seton Catholic Preparatory High School will have its first Veterans Day ceremony for its students on Tuesday.
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