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Schools hold Veterans Day celebrations
Martin Elementary School pre-K student Jason Hechavarria tries out the pilot’s seat of an Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopter that landed at the school Friday as part of a Veterans Day celebration. - photo by Tom Reed

Coming Sunday: Our Heroes
The Times marks Veterans Day this coming week with special sections in print and online dedicated to those who have served and still serve in our armed forces. In print, you’ll find profiles of local vets from each service branch, along with quick facts and a military quiz. Online, you can watch videos, listen to each service branch’s anthem and test your knowledge with a Veterans Day quiz.
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Theodore Golab couldn’t help but tear up as he climbed the hill to Martin Elementary School’s baseball field.

The Flowery Branch resident who served as a Marine in Vietnam, reveled in the dancing American flags elementary school children waived around him and 50 other veterans Friday during the school’s Veterans Day Walk of Honor. Children who lined both sides of the walkway told him "Thank you for serving" and "God bless you."

"I’ve never had anything like this in my life," he said. "When we got back from Vietnam, it was very different. I’m so proud to be an American. I’m so proud of this generation. My friends did not die in vain."

The celebration at Martin Elementary was one of several held at local schools Friday. World Language Academy and Oakwood Elementary also held Veterans Day events.

At Martin, an OH58 Kiowa Army Helicopter landed on the Martin baseball field, heralding the veterans’ arrival.

Golab said seeing schoolchildren happy and free is the reason he fought for America.

"My new heroes are this generation," he said. "With them waiving all the flags, it’s very emotional. ... My friends that are no longer here, they would really appreciate this. I can feel them here with me now, smiling. Maybe that’s why I survived, to represent them here today."

Martin teacher Kim Johnson, also a member of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Chapter 772 of Gainesville, said the Department of Homeland Security gave the Army National Guard clearance to land the helicopter at Martin. She said she’s glad to facilitate the opportunity for kids to meet veterans and give them a chance to thank them for their service.

Martin’s fifth-grade chorus also performed the songs representing each branch of the U.S. military. There were current members or veterans of each branch at Martin, including Bronze Star recipient Maj. Kevin Jarrard, as well as veterans from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnson said.

Students at the World Language Academy also celebrated Veterans Day on Friday.

Fourth- and fifth-graders in physical education teacher Paul Azor’s leadership class helped organize a Walk-A-Thon benefitting Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Azor said the more than 500 students in the school raised more than $1,000 for the hospital.

"Without our veterans, this wouldn’t be possible," Azor said of the World Language Academy that celebrates international cultures. "It stems from our liberties and freedoms that the soldiers provide and maintain for us."

Classes took turn circling the field behind the World Language Academy as teachers marked off their laps.

Fifth-grader Nick Langford said it makes him feel good to help soldiers recover after serving overseas, especially since he’s learned that many come home wounded, some without legs or arms.

"They’re serving the country for us and it’s the least we can do to pay them back in return," he said.

Oakwood Elementary also hosted a Veterans Day celebration Friday. More than 30 veterans who are family members of students joined their young loved ones for breakfast.

Oakwood Elementary Principal Karla Swafford said veteran Dr. Chris Turner of Flowery Branch Chiropractic spoke to students about the history of Veterans Day and how it evolved from Armistice Day following World War II.

Elementary students also honored Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown. Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, received a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq this past year.

Many more local schools will host Veterans Day events next week. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is scheduled to speak at a Veterans Day event at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Wauka Mountain Elementary.