Hundreds of people packed into the auditorium at J.F. Drake Middle School on Tuesday morning to honor America’s veterans.

“Today we gather here to honor all those men and women that have served so gallantly in our armed forces,” said student Rylee Plexico. “They have insured that the United States can continue to enjoy peace and freedom even though many other countries must deal with war and conflict.”

Members of each branch of the military were present for the ceremony. The song for each branch was played over the loudspeakers and veterans were encouraged to stand when they heard their song.

J.F. Drake students took turns discussing the history behind Veterans Day (Nov. 11), what it means and to provide an introduction of the event’s speaker. The sixth-grade student choir gave two performances during the ceremony, “My Country ’Tis Of Thee” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Col. David Bottomlee was the keynote speaker. He referred to many different celebrities who are also veterans — including actor Adam Driver, artist Bob Ross and actor Chuck Norris.

One of his main goals was to discuss the core values associated with the military — integrity, serving others and exceptional performance — and how they could be applied to the children’s lives.

“I want (the students) to walk out thinking about what are core values and what are my core values,” Bottomlee said. “And what’s my character? And how am I going to make decisions in life? How am I going to relate to other people?”

He admitted to having to own up to his own past mistakes to demonstrate integrity.

“If you have good character, if you’ve got strong character, where you care about other people and you live your life with integrity then it’s going to affect you for the rest of your life and its going to lead to long-term success,” Bottomlee said.

Auburn High School student Nathan Landers closed the event by playing taps, and a moment of silence was held for veterans who gave their lives in the line of duty.

“We are blessed to live in a wonderful nation and as educators, we are impacting the lives of these students and as long as I’m the principal here, you have my commitment that it is important to me that we convey the message to these students that our freedom comes at a great price,” said J.F. Drake Principal Sarah Armstrong.

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