The distinct sound of a bugle pierced the crisp, sunny morning Nov. 11, when Stony Creek Elementary hosted its annual Veterans Day celebration.
John De Le Garza, the school's principal, an Army veteran and a member of the American GI Forum, invited a few members from his group. The men, dressed in black uniforms with black berets, performed a flag-raising ceremony while one played the bugle. The students and families looked on, and a group of Boy Scouts led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The crowd stood silent as the familiar strains of Taps gave the ceremony a solemn and serious feel, and then the sixth-grade class led the crowd in the "Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful." Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." was next, led by the third-graders. They started slow and quiet but picked up with the first line of the second verse: "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free."
"That was outstanding," said Ken Hylsky, a South Jeffco Navy veteran who has two sons at Stony Creek. "It was very special. It creates loyalty to our country for students, and hopefully they'll want to serve in the armed forces."
Hylsky said his time in the Navy, from 1992-98, was "invaluable," and he hoped some of the young students who saw the ceremony were inspired to follow suit.
"I thought it was wonderful," said Steve Fiori of Roxborough, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marine Corps. "It's very needed right now. A lot of veterans don't get thanked."
Fiori said that he didn't get any thanks when he returned from the jungles of South Asia, and Veterans Day is a great opportunity to remind everybody to think about the men and women who serve in the military.
"If we don't do it now, we won't do it at all," he said. "The real heroes are the ones who didn't come home."
Fiori said that his nephews, who attend Stony Creek, have a great respect for the flag and the country, and it comes from being exposed to veterans and learning about their experiences.
De La Garza said the event marked the second year the school has held a Veterans Day ceremony, which includes a breakfast after the formal ceremony for veterans and their families.
"I think it's very special, and the students love it," De La Garza said. It was hard for him to answer questions after the event because parents of students kept interrupting to thank him, and to say how much it touched them.
One woman in particular mentioned that she had tears in her eyes when she heard Taps.
"Every time you do Taps, it sends a feeling through your body," De La Garza said. "It's important that we do it."
De La Garza wasn't exaggerating the impact the ceremony has on the students.
"It was awesome," said Amy Bohn, a fifth-grader. "I like how all the grades had a different part in leading the songs."
Maddie Howell, also a fifth-grader, said it was "really cool," and her classmate Kelly Harrington, said, "It was awesome."
Alec Bonnett, a sixth-grader, appreciated the ceremony for a different reason.
"It's cool for all the veterans to come out," Bonnett said. "I loved it when they raised the flag."