Annual Veterans Day Ceremony Benefits Frederiksen Elementary School Students
The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “tradition” in the following way: n: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth of by example from one generation to another without written instructions. For the past nine years, a very important tradition has been conducted at Frederiksen Elementary School. Guided by first grade teacher Catherine Brown and fine arts instructor Jamie Perez, hundreds of elementary students have benefited in at least two ways. They have been taught the importance and impact of the Veterans Day Holiday. Secondly, they have been provided with the opportunity to personally thank scores of Veterans and active service-people. Given its close proximity to Camp Parks, RFTA, Frederiksen has served as an almost natural conduit to welcome troops and their families to this school site.
Last Friday, the multi-purpose room at Fred began to fill starting at 9:15 AM. A mere five years ago, the number of enrolled students was just over 500. In 2014, the general population is now approaching 800. So, it required a high level of coordination and cooperation to efficiently seat the kids and the attendees. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6298 of Pleasanton posted the Colors. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by DUSD Superintendent Stephen Hanke and all of those in attendance sang the Star Spangled Banner.
The first featured speaker was Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Gerdes. He is the Garrison Commander at Camp Parks. It is interesting to note that he and his family have become quite familiar with the Dublin Unified School District. He is the father of three children – with one child attending Dublin High School, Wells Middle School and Frederiksen Elementary, respectively. Commander Gerdes engaged with the students with questions about the purpose of the assembly and then offered up an interesting piece of Army “trivia.” He asked the assembly why was it that the formal Army Service Uniform that he has wearing featured a navy colored jacket and lighter blue pants. After facing a sea of inquisitive faces, he explained. In the embryonic stages of the U.S. Army, they traveled westward to guard the country on horseback. It was typical for a soldier to mount up and to pack his jacket in a saddlebag. When one would wear the same pair of pants every day, it would simply fade over the course of time. Thus, in 2008, the Army Service Uniform was adopted for occasions when formal dress was required that represented this unique anomaly.
Several musical numbers were conducted by all students from grades 1-5. Donna Willy performed her always stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. It was particularly moving as she explained the fact that this piece has been performed all around the globe both in times of conflict and in times of peace. The resonance is that in an open field, the sound can be heard for many miles around.
After viewing a slide show constructed by Ms. Brown, the most visceral element of the assembly always occurs. One-by-one, the students experience something that they cannot read in a book or understand online. As they exited the MP, the Panthers had the opportunity to shake hands, high five or just share a warm “thank you” with those that have served to protect our country. It’s a moment that is difficult to capture into words. However, we are confident that it is an experience that is very meaningful for both the students and the veterans.
An individual that chose not to be a part of the pomp and circumstance remained in the right rear of the MP. He needed to as he was watching over this 3rd grade class during the assembly. However, he had every right to be there. As a Certificated member of the Frederiksen staff since 2008, he simply grinned with pride. Candido Gomez served actively and as a reserve member of the United States Navy for 20 years. He was stationed in Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand. During this time, his primary responsibilities centered on communications/tracking and detecting systems for the Special Forces. While in Alaska, his aircraft time was spent patrolling the Pacific Ocean for Soviet submarines. We reached out to Mr. Gomez to gain his perspective on his experiences and what these assemblies mean to him.
OneDublin.org: You joined DUSD in 2008 as a certificated member. Please explain why you elected to take this professional path – post military service.
Candido Gomez: “In a nutshell, the main reason I choose to become a teacher is because I like to help. Alison, my wife, had suggested that I look into becoming a teacher since there was a strong need for bilingual teachers. After leaving active-duty I hired on with United Airlines and was a lead avionics technician. Many of my duties revolved around teaching aircraft systems.”
OneDublin.org: Over the past several years, you have been able to witness the Veteran’s Day assembly at Frederiksen Elementary. Try to articulate what this effort means to you.
Gomez: “The effort at Frederiksen is heart-warming and very touching. It would be incredible if all Dublin schools participated in like manner. Our students have a good understanding of what it means to be a veteran because of the ceremony and the entire build-up prior to the assembly. The ceremony is bittersweet because my wish is that war and conflict would become a thing of the past. That one day Veterans’ Day would be extinct because war and conflict would be extinct. But until that day, we celebrate those that have defended our basic freedoms.”
OneDublin.org: Clearly, there are many lessons that you learned while enlisted in the US Navy. Though your students may be young, what lessons/habits do you try to instill in them that may benefit them in the future?
Gomez: “I always, always, always teach my students that should be very proud of being American. I also instill a love of country and duty-in a 3rd grade kind of way. We always work on teamwork and cooperation. Our students work on conflict resolution and higher purpose. In history I remind our students that although no country is perfect-their country is far and away the best on earth.”
OneDublin.org: What advice or guidance would you offer to a student that is contemplating an enlistment or career in the military?
Gomez: “I would tell a student who is contemplating joining the military to join! They will be better for the experience. The training and opportunity they receive cannot be duplicated in any sector.”
Finally, our story would not be complete unless we shared a very memorable dedication issued on this day. The gathered crowd was adorned with red poppies. The poppies represent the blood that was shed by American troops in France. The VFW adopted this movement that was motivated in John McCrea’s poem “In Flanders Field.” In 2013, the VFW Post 6298 granted Frederiksen with a generous donation to acknowledge this ongoing assembly. While humbled, Catherine Brown and her colleagues wanted to help turn this contribution into a more longer-lasting recognition of what will become an “evergreen” celebration. With the help of local parents, specifically veteran Gilbert Amador, it became a reality. Mr. Amador donated materials and his efforts to construct a “Buddy Bench” that will be installed shortly near the Kindergarten complex. The intent is to create a space where any student that is seeking out to find a buddy, may utilize. It was the ultimate topper on an unforgettable morning.
So, another Veterans Day Ceremony has been conducted at Frederiksen Elementary. Yet, each one continues to be completely unique. OneDublin.org would like to thank the efforts of Catherine Brown, Jaime Perez, Commander Gerdes, Candido Gomez, VFW Post 6298, Principal Holly Scroggins and the collective community of Frederiksen for their contributions in constructing this profile. As Commander Gerdes would have everyone say, “Hooah!”