More than 100 students and six teachers along with three parents and 15 local Veterans placed 800 flags on Veterans’ gravesites in preparation for Memorial Day. The group, from Texas City ISD’s Heights Elementary School’s Adopt-A-Veteran Program, spent their last day of school honoring local Veterans buried in the Galveston County Memorial Park Cemetery in Hitchcock Texas. Although Veterans are buried throughout the park’s 75 acres and 50,000 graves, there are three separately dedicated sections; one for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, another for the Spanish American War and a Field of Honor. The event took four and a half hours.
A patriotic program followed the placing of the flags at nearby Jack Brooks Park, the site of Camp Wallace. On Camp Wallace Hill, an Honor Guard from the Galveston County Veterans Coalition raised and lowered the flag, honoring the fallen, gave a three-gun rifle volley salute and played Taps. They also prepared and served food for the group. Following the picnic lunch, Memorial Lanterns were launched from the Hill. Each lantern held a Veteran’s name and an 800 number to call when they are found.
Camp Wallace was a World War II 900-acre fort where soldiers were trained to operate anti-aircraft guns from 1942-44. It also served as an internment camp for German POWs, some of whom were captured when they washed ashore from U-boats which sank in Galveston Bay.
For four years, the Thanking Our Veterans Program has honored area Veterans for their service.
The idea was conceived in May 2013 in response to a local news article searching for volunteers to place flags on the gravesites in Galveston Memorial Park. Third grade students and teachers responded and assisted VFW Post 8248 and placed 600 flags on Veterans’ graves. The program, funded by a grant from the Texas City ISD Foundation for the Future, involves six instructors who teach subjects such as the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the history of the U.S. flag. They also review the timelines of wars, branches of the service and patriotic symbols. Third graders adopt a Veteran to honor them for their service. Any area Veteran can participate. The program is the brainchild of retired Texas City ISD principal Bill Marshall and his wife, Karyn, a retired teacher. The Marshalls both ended their careers at Heights Elementary School and continue their public service with this group.
“When you see the kids and the Vets interact, it’s inspiring…teaching kids what vets have done for their freedoms,” says Karyn Marshall.
“The project was to involve our students ‘adopting’ a veteran from the 30-year-old VFW Post 8248 in La Marque, Texas, says Marine Corps Veteran, Frank Furleigh, Galveston County Veterans’ Services Officer, who is also an adopted Veteran and a program volunteer.
The flag placing is one of four activities Veterans attend with their adopted classes. In September, there is “Meet me for lunch,’ where students, teachers and Principal Nathan Jackson welcome everyone. In November teachers and students present a Veterans’ Day Assembly honoring vets and encouraging patriotism. In February there is “A Birthday Bash for You” complete with birthday cake and cards made by the students for each vet to celebrate their birthdays.
Veterans participating in the ceremony were from the Texas City Senior Center, the Elmcroft Senior Living Home and the Galveston County Veterans Coalition.
Two local active duty Coast Guard members volunteer regularly with the program.
Joyce Zongrone is a retired Navy public affairs officer and journalist. Joyce worked for NBC in Burbank, California, NBC News New York, the Galveston Daily News, the Houston Chronicle and United Press International. She also was technical writer for the Johnson Space Center, NASA, during the Challenger disaster. She participated in Operation New Life relocating Vietnamese refugees; Operation Babylift , the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and in Desert Storm’s Operation Southern Watch.