Students at Wilson K-8 School learned Thursday that Veterans Day means more than a day off from classes.
"Veterans Day is a day for all of us to honor and show our appreciation for veterans who served in the military and thank soldiers who are still serving today," eighth-grader Josh Baca told the elementary school children gathered for an assembly at the Oro Valley school.
Joining the kindergarten through fifth-grade students were members of Operation Copper Cactus, comprised of members of the Arizona National Guard whose mission is to protect the Southwest United States Border, as well as veterans who live locally; many were related to a Wilson student.
The assembly was the brainchild of teachers Niki Tilicki and Holly Bedford, who wanted students to understand why Americans celebrate Veterans Day.
One of the catalysts for the gathering was Bedford's daughter, who had seen a YouTube video of the song, "Thank You, Soldiers," by Michael and Angela Souders.
"She told Holly, you have to watch this," said Tilicki.
The song's touching lyrics and a Skype feed to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq formed the core of the assembly.
"I've never reached kids with what Veterans Day means as well as this assembly did," Tilicki said, herself moved by the emotional responses of the children as well as the normally stoic visitors from the military. "I asked one of our students, a 10-year-old, if the song made him sad, and he replied, 'No, it makes me feel proud!'"
The veterans and active duty military in attendance appreciated the opportunity to teach children about military service.
"It's important for today's youth to learn respect for their country and military, and be proud to live in the U.S.," said Duane Enos, a retired Navy petty officer who is now a Tucson police officer.
"I'm glad that kids will know that service is not just about having a job and getting a paycheck. It's about doing something for your country," said Army Staff Sgt. Alfredo Beltran.
Other veterans had more personal reasons for attending.
"My kids asked me to be here," said Richard Bosey, an Air Force veteran whose three children attend Wilson and were at the assembly. Another veteran, Jim Ross, drove in from San Manuel at the request of his grandson, who attends Wilson.
During the Skype feed, children thanked the American soldiers in Iraq for "fighting for our freedom." They then sang the "Thank You, Soldier" song, which the soldiers were able to hear thanks to the Skype feed.
"Thank you for all your support," the soldiers responded. "We're looking forward to getting home."