Alto Elementary Celebrates Veterans

You’re never too young (or old) to come up with an idea and put it into action.  Alto Elementary School fifth grade student Ben Vonderheide had an idea.  He wanted to recognize veterans.  In the end, veterans were invited to a school-wide assembly to thank those who have served.

History of Veterans Day
Veterans Day celebrates those who have served in the US Military.  In May, Armed Forces Day recognizes those currently serving, while Memorial Day honors those who served who have passed away.  

Veterans Day occurs each November 11.  This date was chosen because major efforts ending WWI happened at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.  The day was previously called Armistice Day but was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.  

Celebrating Veterans
Friday morning, students at Alto Elementary School held two assemblies.  The first was for upper elementary students and the second for those in lower grades.  Each group heard Dave Thompson, Commander, U.S. Navy, Retired Pilot & Naval Air Intelligence Officer from 1956-1977, speak about his military experience.  

Starting things off principal Paul Papes welcomed guests, which included parents, grandparents, and veterans.  The 5th grade Cub Scouts led the presentation of colors followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by the Girl Scouts.  Students then sang the Star-Spangled Banner and God Bless the USA under the direction of music teacher Barb Gumina.  

Dave Thompson speaks to students and members of the audience.

Keynote Speaker
Thompson’s speech was seasoned with humor as he reference his age and branches of military which were not his beloved Navy.  His remarks started with an invitation to veterans in the audience to stand, give their name, and service branch of military.  

He described the two types of aircraft he piloted, showing off models of each as he spoke.  First, he talked about the S2F, which served as an anti-submarine aircraft.  Thompson spoke of searching for and tracking Russian submarines.  Second, he described the AD Skyraider, which according to the National Naval Aviation Museumwas considered one of the finest attack and close air support aircraft ever built”.  Thompson also mentioned it’s ability to carry more ordnance than the B-17 during WWII.  

“Landing on an aircraft carrier.” Thompson said with a grin as he explained the most exciting for him about being in the Navy as he showed off his helmet, over six decades old.  He went on to compare landings he made compared to those today.  His aircraft landed on a straight deck carrier compared to today’s boats with runways off set at an angle.  The latter configuration is safer when it comes to aborted landings and allows aircraft to land and take off at the same time without running into each other.  

He’d land at speeds of 80-90 miles per hour before coming to a stop.  Today’s jets grab the arresting hook going approximately 50 miles per hour more, which Thompson compared to traveling at NASCAR vehicle speeds before coming to a stop.  A little bit of trivia was shared when Thompson referred to the yellow embellishments found on the visors of hats worn by officers in the Navy as “scrambled eggs”.  Thompson was a Navy commander at the time he retired from the Navy, able to sport his own eggs.

Thompson presents Ben Vonderheide with a jacket.

Finally, Thompson presented Ben Vonderheide, Cub Scout Webelo 2, with a special gift.  A jacket bearing Vonderheide’s name, a patch saying US Navy Aviation, and the words, “Fly Navy.  We fly the skies and rule the sea.”  This was presented to Vonderheide for his initiative in coming up with an idea to honor veterans and making it happen.  Vonderheide will bridge to Boy Scouts in March of next year.  

Thanking Veterans
After the conclusion of Thompson’s speech, each military branch’s song was played and veterans stood during their song.  At this time members of the Cub Scouts handed out cards which were created and decorated by students as one way of showing appreciation.  Over 20 members of the military, many retired and some active, were present at the assembly representing the Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, and National Guard.  

A final song, Proud of Our Veterans was performed by students before the 5th grade Cub Scouts retired the colors at the direction of Dalton Charon who is a Webelo 2.  After the assembly concluded, students with veteran family members posed for photos.  

Elementary schools across the district participated in activities which show the importance of those who served in the military and why they have a day set aside to honor them.  For many, this day is a reminder to honor these individuals as well as those currently serving each day.  

Thank you to these veterans and all the others from the Lowell community who have served.

Gary Lotridge served in the US Army National Guard. Pictured here with his grandson 3rd grade student Wilson Johnston.
Paul Brouwer served in the Navy. His granddaughter Grace Brouwer is in 4th grade.
Robert Lowe served with the Army. He is pictured here with his granddaughter, 3rd grader Army Delaney Lowe.
Roger Weeks served in the Army. He poses with his grandson Henry Weeks who is in 1st grade.
Ed Magnum served in the US Marine Corp. He is the grandfather of kindergarten student McCoy Skinner pictured here) and 5th grade student Vivyenne Skinner.

Veteran photos courtesy of their family.  Other photos courtesy of the Alto PTO.


  1. As I prepare to enter my 85th year on this Thanksgiving Day, I received a wonderful early gift from the students at Alto Elementary on Veterans Day 2017! And what a day it was … the single idea of a 5th grader, Ben Vonderheide. He didn’t miss a trick, from the Cub Scout Color Guard to the Girl Scout’s Pledge of Allegiance, both performed flawlessly! It was perfection from start to finish and the Music was truly off the charts, directed with such class by Barb Gumina. It was truly a Five Star Production, an observation I make as a former General Manager of the Grand Rapids Symphony! You left 40 Veterans swelled with pride as they saw their children and grandchildren offer their moving salute to all Veterans. Our returned salute to each of you and Ben Vonderheide were ones of admiration and respect we each shared from your efforts.
    There are no lingering doubts about the survival of our great nation after seeing and hearing your program. God Bless each of you and …. God Bless the USA!!
    Dave Thompson, an old Navy Veteran

  2. What an ice and deserved tribute to our heroes. Thank you for reporting on it and sharing it with us!

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