Every year for the past five years, students at one Ellicott City elementary school gather to honor those for whom their school is named.
Opened in 2007, Veterans Elementary was named for the nearby Yingling-Ridgely V.F.W. Post 7472. On Friday, about a dozen U.S. Armed Forces veterans were honored at a school assembly for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Veterans Day in the United States is Sunday.
"We have come together here, every year since our school opened, to recognize the service of our veterans who fought valiantly for our country, over the course of many years," said Robert Bruce, the school's principal.
Bruce spoke to the hundreds of students seated on the floor of the cafetorium about the sacrifices veterans make to keep their country safe.
"Think about this for a minute," he said. "If we have a war in another part of the world, because of something we truly believe in, we have to send our troops to that country. We hope that war doesn't come to our country; that's why we send our troops overseas.
"And that means they have to give up their relationships, their jobs, they have to be away from their families ... they're constantly under a lot of stress, and when bullets fly, they're real bullets."
Veterans Day, Bruce said, is meant to be spent honoring "the many courageous men and women who have given up their time, families, and their lives so that our country can endure."
Bruce asked the students how many knew a veteran, or someone actively serving in the armed forces. Nearly two-thirds of the students raised their hands.
"Veterans are all around you," Bruce said. "Make sure you thank them for their service to their country."
Local elected officials and representatives of the government and school system were also on hand at the event, including Del. Gail Bates, Board of Education Chairwoman Sandra French and board member Ellen Giles. Kent Menser, executive director of the Howard County BRAC Office, spoke on behalf of County Executive Ken Ulman.
Accepting the honors were members of the Yingling-Ridgely VFW Post 7472 and the Ladies Auxiliary of Post 7472. The Howard High School Army JROTC presented the colors.
Fifth-graders Bobby Potter and Lorelei Loraine presided as masters of ceremony at the affair, and announced the winners of the school's Veterans Day essay contest. Those winners, third-grader Grace Li, fourth-grader Asit Das and fifth-grader Shreya Santhanagopalan, all read their works to audience.
The students also sang "You Are Our Heroes," in a show of gratitude for the veterans present.
"Do you know what the common good is?" French asked the students. "It's when we put aside personal interest to do something in a certain way that would help more citizens, more people in our country. That's what our soldiers have done. ... You are the future of our country. Our country's freedoms are going to be in your hands."
Bates, a West Friendship Republican, said it was "an incredible honor" to be at Veterans for the celebration.
"I love coming here for Veterans Day, where you honor the people who gave you your name," she said. "It's a noble name. ... They are the people who give us what we celebrate today: our freedoms. ... You celebrate that every day when you come to school."
Bates described the veterans as heroes, and said heroes "aren't like Superman or Batman" in comic books.
"I'm guessing we have some heroes sitting right here with us," she said, meaning the students themselves. "Heroes are ordinary people who do the right thing every day."