The North Valley Christian Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, decided that, instead of not holding classes as it had done in years past, the school would use Veterans Day to honor those who have served our country in uniform, even featuring a local war hero as the keynote speaker of an all-school morning assembly.
The day began with students in the pre-K through 12th grade school hosting a breakfast, which was open to veterans from the community.
First graders worked their way among the dozens of veterans of all ages and service branches, giving them thank you cards the students had made for the occasion.
An hour-long Veterans Day Celebration program followed, attended by the whole school and featuring members of all grade levels.
There were performances appropriate for such an occasion, including the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” as well as other patriotic tunes like, “This Is My Country.” Some of the high school boys offered a recitation of Shakespeare’s famous Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from the play “Henry V.”
Head of School, Chris Schoenleb, told the audience on hand that kids from elementary school onward say the Pledge and sing the national anthem every day before class starts, which explains the robust rendition during Monday’s assembly from students on and off stage.
Lisa Upper — the pre-K through 5th grade principal who oversaw Monday’s program — told The Western Journal that “North Valley Christian Academy wants its students to not only reflect on Veterans Day, but also to interact with the men and women this day honors.”
The hundreds attending the event were able to hear from a bona fide war hero, Col. (Retired) Thomas Kirk, a resident of nearby Anthem, Arizona.
Kirk is an Air Force veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, who was shot down in the latter and survived five-and-half-years as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
The 90-year-old told the audience that, despite the hardships, he would not trade a day of his 28 years as a military pilot.
During the Vietnam War, he was the commander of an F-105 dive bomber squadron.
Having successfully completed 66 combat missions over North Vietnam, Kirk was two-thirds of the way from finishing his tour of duty, when on his 67th mission, on Oct. 28, 1967, his fortunes changed drastically.
A North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery found its mark, smashing into the tail of his F-105. Kirk was able to drop his payload, but as he sought to limp his plane out of the kill zone, his flight controls gave out, sending him into a nosedive.
He managed to press his eject button before passing out due to the heavy G-forces his body was experiencing.
When the pilot came to, he was surrounded by Vietnamese men and women beating him and throwing stones at him.
Kirk recounted, in his semi-conscious state, that he knew he was minutes away from being killed when North Vietnamese soldiers showed up and took him captive.
They tortured Kirk so brutally that he despaired even of life.
“My friends, I hope you can understand, with all my heart I wanted to die,” Kirk said.
After being in a place of utter hopelessness, suddenly — and quite unexpectedly — new hope and strength welled within him when he accepted his current circumstances and placed his future wholly into God’s hands.
“I’m here. I can’t change it,” Kirk reasoned. “I’ve got to dig deep with faith in God, faith in the country, and faith in myself. I’ve got to find the strength and the courage to make this.”
The veteran said that after coming to this realization, the rest of the five years were “not that difficult,” though he was beaten multiple times.
Kirk also fell to a weight of just 95 pounds on the meager POW rations of two bowls of cabbage or pumpkin soup and bread a day.
“The interesting thing to me at that time was the strength that every one of these kids and every adult in here has that we don’t get called upon to use. But how wonderful and powerful we are with God’s help,” Kirk said.
“When things get really bad, you have to believe, you have to have faith, and you have to believe in yourself. It was very powerful for me.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, the speaker received a long standing ovation.
When asked afterward if he had crossed paths with the late Sen. John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton, Kirk told The Western Journal that he had. In fact, they were cellmates for a time in the early 1970s.
Kirk said McCain loved to tell history stories and found the naval aviator to be very quick-witted, in some ways like a stand-up comedian.
The last time the two saw each other was 2008, during McCain’s presidential bid in Colorado, where Kirk was then living. Kirk helped organize the Republican’s campaign in the Rocky Mountain State.
After Monday’s program, older students from North Valley Christian engaged in a Q&A with about a dozen veterans who stayed behind.
The veterans fielded a variety of questions about military life and service, with one young man asking if any of them had ever driven a tank — a few said they had.
Schoenleb was pleased with his school’s first Veterans Day Celebration.
“Instead of just taking the day off, it’s really a learning experience for the kids,” he told WJ. “I’m a veteran also, and I just think it’s important that we teach patriotism to these kids.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.