A perfect tribute to Sumter veterans

High Hills Elementary School pays tribute to veterans

High Hills Elementary School fourth-grader Ayden Apato, 10, shows off a Christmas card he wrote to a veteran.
High Hills Elementary School fourth-grader Ayden Apato, 10, shows off a Christmas card he wrote to a veteran.

Not only does Sumter County boast the highest veteran percentage of total population of any county in South Carolina at 15.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but High Hills Elementary School is also located on Shaw Air Force Base, and the school's teachers and students held a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday to fit that statistic.

The vast majority of the school's 500 students come from military families, according to Principal Mary Kay Norton, so they should know how to honor their veterans.

The students have done numerous classroom activities recently to honor veterans, and Thursday's tribute in the school's gymnasium was the culmination of all those events, Norton said. Thursday was the last school day in Sumter School District before Veterans Day, which is Saturday. All schools are closed today in honor of the holiday.

Three current service members from Shaw spoke at Thursday's event, and numerous others, including veterans, were in attendance. Norton estimated about 15 veterans and 15 active military members were on hand during the day, and almost all of them have students of some family relation at the school.

After Air Force Staff Sgt. Jimmy Smith led the assembled audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and the High Hills' school chorus followed with the national anthem, two students - Katisia Coleman and Thomas Walters - presented poems to honor veterans for their service to our country.

Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Hirak followed with a salute to the Fallen Comrade Table in memory of fallen, missing or imprisoned Armed Forces service members.

Air Force Lt. Col. Nathan Puwalowski was the program's keynote speaker.

He spoke of the bravery and honor that veterans and current military members have shown in serving our country through the years. Puwalowski said it takes courage to serve in the military and that the job can sometimes be dangerous.

"But they do it because the job is very important in keeping our country safe," Puwalowski said. "Think of it this way: They are protectors of our country and have been for many years."

In closing, he offered a special thanks to the veterans in attendance, explaining that they have kept our country free, powerful and strong through the decades.

Students throughout the school have done various activities in recent weeks to pay tribute and recognize veterans.

In math and science teacher Montoiya Tevis' fourth-grade class Thursday after the Veterans Day program, students were putting the finishing touches on Christmas cards they have written for a veterans group in Columbia.

Tevis said the idea came from a student's mother.

Ayden Apato, 10, said he was proud of the card he penned to a veteran, also wishing him or her a Happy Thanksgiving "since that's coming soon too."

Ayden said he's also a member of a military family, and said he enjoyed the tribute program.

"I liked the music and that the military came and how we talked about veterans," Ayden said. "I also liked it because my dad is in the military."