“When I raised my right hand at the Air Force Academy, I was 17 years old, like many of the gentlemen in the front row.”
Every year Veteran’s Day celebrations at the McCoy Auditorium get better and better. This year, Syracuse School’s Veterans Day Celebration was held Thursday, November 9. Community members and students had the opportunity to honor our local veterans.
Elementary students made poppies and wrote notes to the veterans expressing their gratitude for their service.
The ceremony began with John Swisher and Oliver Palmer presenting the colors as the students stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
High school, junior high vocal music teacher, Modene Watie performed the National Anthem followed by the fifth and sixth grade choir, directed by Alyssa Banning, singing My Country Tis of Thee.
The flags, Pledge of Allegiance, and National Anthem set the tone for the celebration and the choir created the perfect setting for the rest of the program. I thought it was breathtaking, and I was humbled sitting between two veterans in uniform.
Principal Paul Zuzelski read the names of recent SHS graduates who have enlisted and then introduced Representative Dr. Bill Clifford and his wife, Jean Clifford, both veterans.
Dr. Bill Clifford graduated high school in New Jersey, attended the United States Air Force Academy graduating in 1976, trained and flew the F-15 Eagle stationed in Germany from 1979-1883.
After the Air Force he attended New Mexico State for two years then medical school at the University of Southern California, graduating in 1989. After medical school, he completed residency university in surgical training at the University of Oklahoma, then spent one year as a faculty member at the prestigious King Khalid eye specialist hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
He joined Fry Eye Associates in Garden City in 1995, is now co-owner and president and currently serves as Kansas House of Representative, District 122
Dressed in his white doctor coat, Bill approached the podium and again, reiterated the purpose of Veterans Day. “When I raised my right hand at the Air Force Academy, I was 17 years old, like many of the gentlemen in the front row.”
He too is a Bulldog, a member of the 525th tactical fighter squadron in Germany, the Bulldog Squadron.
He then let the crowd in on a secret, taking off his doctor white coat, revealing his flight suit and teasing Mark Davis about not fitting in to his anymore.
“This is what Mark and I wore every day protecting this country,” said Dr. Clifford. “Like many veterans, I do not view myself a 60 plus year old doctor and state representative.”
“Like my friend Mark, I still see myself as that fearless veteran defending our country. Much like I am sure these fellow veterans do. I also carry with me the memory of those who served with me who didn’t come back,” said Bill.
Bill challenged the students. When they see an aging veteran, try to imagine what they looked like serving on a hill in Korea, in a helicopter in Vietnam, standing guard on an outpost in the desert. “Because we proudly remember ourselves that way.”
Colonel Jean Clifford followed her husband, as the second speaker. Prior to her career in the Air Force, she was an elementary school teacher and an attorney. She served 30 years in the Air Force, in the office of the Staff Judge Advocate, from 1980 until her retirement 2010.
Serving on active duty for almost ten years, she was stationed in Germany, New Mexico, Texas, and California. She then served in the reserves for 20 years in Oklahoma, Florida, Washington, DC, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Puerto Rico. She worked with many other branches of the military.
She also served as a liaison officer to the Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC, working with students who were interested in attending a military academy or participating in Air Force ROTC programs.
“So much of what I do now, I learned when I was in the military,” said Jean. “They taught me the skills and abilities to be able to work to improve opportunities for others,” said Jean.
“As we are honoring our veterans this month, I hope some of you will consider serving in the future,” she said. “A military base is like a city, every type of job there is, you will also have at a military base. It’s not just aviation, security, or administrative, it also includes firemen and policemen.”
She admitted the military is a significant commitment with challenges. Each branch has its own culture, “The decision can be rewarding, shaping your lives in a positive way, think about what you would like to contribute to your community and to our state and nation.”
In a surprise presentation, Melanie Eddy, representing the Quilts of Valor program had a special quilt to present to a humbled principal Paul Zuzelski who will be retiring in the spring. “I had help from your wife (Barbara) getting some special tee shirts from your closet and in appreciation for helping organize the Veterans Day celebrations, we would like to present this tee shirt quilt to you.”
The students gave “Z” an eruption of hoots and hollering, a standing ovation and applause as the quilt was draped on Zuzelski.
Concluding the celebration in the auditorium, veterans were invited to the front to introduce themselves and tell what branch of the military they served in.
The fifth through 12th grade students and faculty then filed through, shaking each veteran’s hand, thanking them for their service. Many wrote a note of thanks and gave to the veterans.
The veterans then filed through the lower level of the elementary school where preschool to fourth grade waved flags, gave high fives and, thanked them for their service.
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