'They will salute you back' - West students learn how they can honor veterans
Although he's now nearly 90, Dave Hughes hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a kid.
The retired, highly decorated Army colonel and revered Westside leader, who was the featured speaker at the West Campus' annual Veterans Day assembly Nov. 10 in the school gym, used the opportunity to show his audience a quiet but meaningful way to honor military service members.
“If you stand in front of a veteran and hold the salute, he will salute you back,” said Hughes. And he proceeded to illustrate by saluting the students. So for a couple of seconds, as he stood there in military posture with his straightened hand above his right eyebrow and under his 7th Cavalry hat, most of the roughly 600 students in attendance copied his pose.
Afterwards, Hughes elaborated that the words, “Thank you for your service” - the best known way to express appreciation to a vet - “can be hard for children to say.” But a salute is simple and just as respectful, he explained.
The campus consists of West Middle School (grades 6-8) and West Elementary (K-5). This was the fifth year for the combined schools' Veterans
In addition, American Legion Centennial Post 209 presents the colors, school staffers who served are asked to stand, and the middle school band and choirs from both schools perform military-appreciation songs.
In introducing Hughes, West Middle School Principal Shalah Sims summarized his military career, which included graduating from West Point as a lieutenant in 1950, fighting in both the Korean and Vietnam wars and retiring as chief of staff at Fort Carson. Calling him a “treasure to the community,” she also noted his leadership on Old Colorado City's revitalization dating back to the 1970s.
An insert in the assembly program reprinted a Westside Pioneer article about Hughes from 2004. The article described his leading a desperate charge to take a key hill from Chinese troops during the Korean War (which earned him the Distinguished Service Cross), and in '04 receiving its Distinguished Graduate Award.
In his roughly 15-minute speech, Hughes did not talk much about himself, although he did note that in the Korean War 40 of his West Point classmates were killed in action.
He emphasized the historical significance of the American military, including a display of his own copy of the famous Bennington flag - the first American flag with the 13 stars of the colonies - which was first unfurled at the 1777 Battle of Bennington (Vermont).
He also explained the difference between Memorial Day (honoring American soldiers who died in war) and Veterans Day (honoring all who've served).
And he gave the history of the salute. It dates back 1,000 years, to knights wearing armor with visors over their faces and the right hand raising the visor to a fellow knight.
“A salute means you see a friend,” Hughes told the students, then added, with a grin, “I don't see any enemies here.”
Westside Pioneer article