Last week, Ox Ridge School held a Veterans Day Celebration with veterans and town officials. The event began with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” sung by the kindergarten class. A procession followed in which the veterans entered the auditorium as fifth graders sang “America the Beautiful” and “Armed Forces Salute.”
Most Darien elementary schools held ceremonies to honor veterans. Veterans Day fell on a Sunday this year so there was no official town ceremony, though the Veterans Circle in Darien was visited by town residents and officials. There are also flags placed on every grave in Darien’s historic Veterans Cemetery.
Ox Ridge principal Dr. Luke Forshaw then welcomed everyone including First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and state Rep. Terrie Wood to the event, followed by fourth grade student, Graham Carter, leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
Dr. Forshaw then introduced the visiting veterans, who included Vietnam War vets Jim Baker, Michael Harding, Jim Rand and David Kroenlein of the Navy, Richard Alan Butler and Michael Flanagan from the Marines, Richard A. Kohlberger, Dean O. Lundahl Jr., Richard B. Sloat and George W. Watts from the Army, and Marjorie Stafford from the Air Force. Other veterans included Bud Stafford from the Air Force who fought in Vietnam and the Cold War, Jonathan Bowman from the Air Force who fought in the War on Terror, Jason Ebert from the Army who fought in the War on Terror, Marvin Minkler III from the Army and Third Infantry/ The “Old Guard” and Sharad Samy from the Army who fought in Operation Enduring Freedom.
David Kroenlein then led the question and answer session with the first student asking, “What was the scariest thing that happened to you?” Bud Stafford answered saying, “In South Vietnam, at night we would get a warning about rockets. One night, we ran out and put on our vests and helmets and went under our beds knowing it wouldn’t help me. The next morning, we woke up to find one of the rockets had hit a safe, but malfunctioned and didn’t go off.”
“What did you learn through the struggles you had in the military?” another student asked. Majorie Stafford said, “The main thing was teamwork. We relied on each other. Nothing was more valuable to you than friends.”
Marvin Minkler III said, “We practiced three to six hours a day. When it was over, we’d go back out and practice some more. Every count was measured, if you dropped a weapon you’d be taken out of the drill. After being in the military, I noticed there is nothing we can’t do.”
The veterans were asked, “What was your favorite moment as a soldier?” Dean O. Lundahl, Jr. answered, “The day we flew back from Vietnam, it was nighttime and we came into Oakland, California. We could see the lights. We had no TV in Vietnam, can you imagine that? Most of us hadn’t been home in one year. We all started singing ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ and we cried.”
On friendships made during their service, Minkler said, “The most interesting thing really was the friendship thing and having to depend on one another. The way it works out is that you have a buddy you’ve never seen in your life and you know you can trust him with your life.”
And on relationships that endured after their service, Lundahl added, “After I left for the Army, I met a man from Ohio. We went to two different ports. When we went to Vietnam we both went together and talked on the plane. When we left Vietnam, I got to leave on the plane with him again. I checked him up on Facebook and we talk all the time. We’re still friends now.”