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Students armed with gratitude honor vets’ sacrifice

War veteran Tom Ackerly drew an antique photo of young soldiers posed near a B-24 bomber to show a group of captivated eighth-graders from Blessed Sacrament School Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

“It’s such an amazing story. We went through hell and high-water,” said Ackerly, 90, a retired Air Force officer who commanded an aircraft during World War II.

He and his crew flew over Italy, Germany and other countries in the mid-1940s to battle enemy forces, he said.

“America is worth fighting for,” Ackerly told the students. “We love our country. We’d do it again.”

Students at the Denver school listened to the service men and women share stories of bravery and the meaning of service before asking questions about war and combat.

“I thought they were brave to go serve,” said eighth-grader Alonzo Moon.

Across the country, Americans gave tribute to military men and women for their service with parades, wreath ceremonies, dedications and song. Over the weekend, supporters swarmed Denver’s downtown to watch a line of troops, cars and floats for the city’s annual parade and daylong series of activities.

Blessed Sacrament students and teachers honored service men past and present with a Mass celebrated by Father Chris Hellstrom and a musical program and reception afterward.

Younger students in the Boy Scouts presented flags and the entire school body waved small American flags to the sound of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Uniformed veterans sat in the front row of the church to listen to seventh-graders sing patriotic tunes, including “Tribute to the Armed Forces” and “Thank You, Soldiers.”

“It fills me with joy that they’re learning how to show gratitude,” said Sylvia Wilms, 86, a retired Air Force nurse who served in the 1950s.

Retired Maj. Dennis Shary, 66, who spent 26 years rising through the ranks of the Navy, Air Force and ROTC, said students’ recognition for his service is meaningful.

“It makes you feel so proud to get that recognition,” he said during the reception. “It made me feel good about what I did and accomplished. I’d do it again.”

School principal Greg Kruthaupt began the annual tradition of honoring veterans at the school once he experienced gratitude for his service as a Marine in the Vietnam War.

“It was so powerful,” he said about the first time he was thanked. “It’s something that everyone appreciates.”

After Mass, Col. Michael Willis, 47, of the Colorado National Guard spoke to the students about the meaning of service and how all are called to serve in some way.

“All people are made in God’s image and therefore all people are worthy to serve,” he said. “We’re all called to use our gifts to serve others. That’s how we put our faith into action.”

While not all are called to serve their country through the military, everyone can serve in small ways, he said.

“We’re called to serve every day. It’s the little things that matter,” said Willis, who’s served for nearly 25 years in the military.

Later Willis said spending time with the students “is the most rewarding thing I can do.”

“We need them more than they need us.”

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