Story by Emily Leonetti - Staff Writer/Student
Photo by Jamie Schershel, student
As the country came together on November 6 to vote for the next president, the Oregon City community came together to honor the local veterans.
The Oregon City High School gym was packed for the school's seventh annual Veterans Day Assembly, organized every year by Ed Burton and Vice Principal Kathy Johnson. In this assembly, local veterans of military, police and firefighting background gathered in the school gym with students, faculty and other community members to celebrate Veterans Day.
The students were seated in the bleachers, many clutching American flags that were dispensed as they filed into the gym. In the middle of the gym were chairs for all of the veteran members of the community and their families.
At one end of the gym, facing the veteran’s seats, was a row for the honored guests and a podium for the speakers.
The veterans entered the gym, led by JROTC students carrying the flag of their branch of the military. Many of the veterans attend the event every year, and many of which have a close connection to a student in the school.
"I think it’s wonderful that they honor the veterans," said Liz Vattiat, wife of Marine veteran Mike Vattiat and grandmother of senior Emily Unis. "They show the students what people have gone through to defend their freedom."
Burton, a veteran himself, has put on this ceremony with the help of Vice Principal Johnson every year for the past seven years. Burton introduced the assembly as he does every year, telling attendants why he does this, and what it means to him and the community.
After the introduction to the assembly itself, Burton then introduced the honored guests: Superintendent Larry Didway and Principal Nancy Bush-Lange representing the school and district, Congressman Kurt Schrader, Molalla Police Chief Rod Lucich, Chief Jamie Karn, and Mel Mellon, a 90-year-old World War Two Veteran. Also visiting was a special guest from New York City, Lt. Joe Torrillo, who was an acting firefighter during the 9/11 attacks.
Also among the honored was Lt. Mark Burley, a close friend of Tyrone Woods, the Navy SEAL killed in Libya; as well as Pat Johnson, Ty’s wrestling coach. Also, seated with the veterans, were Ty’s mother, uncle and sister.
After a video titled "The Cost of Freedom," Chief Karn introduced Lt. Torrillo, who gave a heartfelt speech about his experience on 9/11 and how it has motivated him to help people today. Lt. Torrillo travels all around the world speaking about that day and how proud he is to live in this country.
"I feel an obligation," said Lt. Torrillo before the assembly, “to have every single person in this country understand the sacrifices that out veterans have made."
The assembly was filled with sentimental and unique moments. One such moment was when 90-year -old World War Two veteran, and last surviving member of the Glen Miller Band, Mel Mellon, got to direct the OCHS band in one of the songs he played during the war. According to assembly coordinators, it had been a life dream of his to direct a band, and was a total surprise that he got the chance to do so at the assembly.
Also among the meaningful moments was a segment called "Heroes in the Hallway," where Burton announced all of the staff of Oregon City School District that had served in the military themselves.
The most recognized moment, however, was the remembrance of Tyrone, or Ty, Woods. A brief biography of Ty's life was read. The choir sang a song entitled "Thank You," which had been written by a friend of the Woods family. Ty's wrestling coach, Pat Johnson, and one of his close friends, firefighter Lt. Mark Burley, both spoke of Ty fondly, remembering his kindness and motivation.
After Johnson spoke, the OCHS JROTC held a flag folding ceremony using the same flag that had decorated Woods' grandfather's coffin and handed it to Ty’s mother.
OCHS ASB president, Jackson Peters, and Secretary of Treasury, Beau Brosseau, then presented Ty’s mother with a flag box to hold her son's flag. It was an emotional moment as she accepted the gift and gave her thanks.
To end the assembly, Burton, Principal Bush-Lange, Superintendent Didway and Congressman Kurt Schrader gave their closing statements and thanks.
Of the assembly, veteran Marine and Oregon City staff member Mike Vattiat, said, “I love it; I wouldn't miss it for the world." Mr. Vattiat attends the assembly every year in his Marine Dress blues.
Other veterans seemed to enjoy the assembly as well. World War Two Navy veteran, grandfather to student Cameron Linford, Delbert Minkler, said, “I thought this was great, very nice tribute."
"Whoever planned this," continued Minkler, "did a very nice job."
Even some of the less talkative veterans agreed that it was well put together, including ASB President Peters’ grandfather Pat Callaghan. The assembly brought in people from all over the community to participate and honor veterans and recognize their sacrifice.
As Burton said during his speech, this assembly did not promote war, but rather recognized the price of freedom.