CHICO — Teaching young citizens about patriotism and a respect for military veterans was the objective of Wednesday’s Veterans Day observance at Shasta Elementary School, 169 Leora Court, in north Chico.
Considering the flair and warmth with which the school welcomed vets and their families — as well as a “flyover” by two T-38 jets from Beale Air Force Base — Shasta students, teachers and staff can proudly declare, “Mission accomplished!”
Students created red, white and blue drawings for veterans in attendance, and eagerly gathered around the vets — many of whom wore hats or vests displaying their branches of service — to ask them about their service and themselves. All the military men and women appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the celebrity while being the guests of honor.
One of those was Chico resident Ed Wrona, who enjoyed camaraderie with fellow Navy vets Cliff Marden, who served on the USS Ethan Allen during 1970-76, and Steve Pereira, a sailor during 1968-76 on riverboats in Vietnam as well as on the USS Alamo.
Wrona, enlisted in 1971-73, served aboard the USS Oklahoma City — “the flagship of the 7th Fleet,” he explained.
He smiled broadly at the proceedings taking place around him.
“This is absolutely amazing,” he said of the event. “I didn’t realize how big it is here. This school is big on promoting appreciation of vets and patriotism.”
Wrona said he hoped the celebration would pique the interest of the older students on hand and encourage them to begin thinking about military service in a few years.
“The younger students have been inquisitive, but talking to the older students, I’d like to get ’em interested,” he explained. “The military is the place to grow up.”
Nearby was Dennis Decker, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany during and after World War II, in 1944-46. He grew up in Raton, New Mexico, spending some time in Torrance, but graduating from Raton High School.
“I had just gotten out of high school when I enlisted,” Decker said. “I was just a kid when I got over there.”
How did he like the reception from the Shasta students?
“I want to come here every day,” he said, smiling at the growing line of students waiting to talk to him. “I can’t get enough of these kids and the love they’ve shown.”
Decker has lived in Chico for exactly five years — because he lived in Paradise at the time of the Camp Fire, which happened five years ago Wednesday. “We came to Chico that day,” following the destruction of his home, he explained.
Jim Wood, a retired Chico pediatrician, served in the Navy during 1968-76 — active duty in 1968-70, then part of the “ready reserves” in the next six years. He served stateside during his entire enlistment, having already earned his medical degree.
Wood served in Monterey at the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, providing medical service to families of airmen who trained at the base. “They were pilots who needed to get (flying) hours,” he said.
Gary Newquist, a U.S. Navy veteran who served as an “engine man” aboard the USS Raton submarine in 1958-60, held an aerial photo of San Diego Bay as his wife, Mary, described to students how submarines worked.
“All three of our grandchildren attended Shasta,” Mary Newquist said.
Shasta music teacher Jim McKenzie led the school’s students in “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the assembly waited for the flyover to occur. They had to be sharp in watching the sky; the two planes zipped by and were out of sight almost as quickly as they appeared. McKenzie had led the singing in several other patriotic tunes, which third-grade teacher Sandy Granicher had selected and arranged.
Shasta principal Bruce Besnard said he and his staff began preparations for the event in the summertime.
“We talked last year about getting a flyover,” he said, “so in August we began working on getting that done.”
Besnard described how he contacted a friend in the U.S. Marine Corps, who provided direction on the military authorities to call.
“We filled out the forms and got FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approval,” he said, adding that the U-2 spy plane was his first choice, but that the T-38s were better-suited for the occasion.
Besnard estimated there were 45 veterans in attendance, most of whom had some familial connection to students at the school. During a ceremony, the veterans introduced themselves, and mentioned their branches of service, years of service and their jobs while in the ranks.
“Some talked about where they were and the good times they had; some talked about friends they made,” the principal said.
The event has been an annual occurrence since 2018, but Wednesday represented only the third year since veterans were present.
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