Inspired by his father, who fought in World War II, Larry Fairclo has been putting on Veterans Day assemblies at schools in The Dalles for more than 20 years. “He was one of three that came back alive from his company of 150 men so he’s got a lot of military history,” said Fairclo, a physical education teacher at The Dalles Middle School.
“He stressed to me that when the flag comes by, a lot of people have given their lives for your freedom so you stand up straight, tall and quiet, out of respect.”
But Fairclo discovered not everyone had the same reverence for the flag or veterans. And he decided to do something about it.
“I talked to my principal and said we have to educate kids about the meaning of Veterans Day,” Fairclo said. “We have two objectives at every Veterans Day assembly, educate kids and honor vets. Nothing else matters. Every third year, we try to do a big assembly and this is our third year.”
Fairclo is also retiring at the end of the school year so he wanted to go out with a bang.
This year’s festivities will begin Tuesday at 9 a.m. when TDMS students gather around outside to watch a National Guard Blackhawk fly over the school and land on the football field.
“It’s exciting,” Fairclo said. “It’s a pretty big bird.”
Having a military helicopter at the assembly is unique but not new. In its history, there have been four—another Blackhawk and two Chinooks.
“We started out small,” Fairclo said. “It was like blowing up these balloons of wish list. We have a Veterans Day committee and we’ve had all kinds of ideas. Sometimes they get popped, sometimes they don’t. I had a kid say let’s get a helicopter, a long time ago. That all started with a student.”
Along with the helicopter, the National Guard will also have a tank and another armored vehicles on display.
The assembly starts at 10 a.m. in the middle school gym. The National Guard will present the colors. The middle schoolers who are Boy Scouts will then join in and march.
Dr. Pat Stone, a decorated Vietnam veteran and author of “20th Birthday” is the guest speaker.
After his military service, Stone spent his life as a psychologist treating
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
TDMS students are participating in an essay contest with the winner in each grade receiving a $25 cash reward from State Farm. An overall winner from the school will receive $100 and read their essay out loud during the assembly.
Veterans are also invited to speak. The assembly had 15-20 veterans in its early days. Last year, more attended than ever—97. The goal this year is 200.
“The biggest thing it teachers our kids is respect,” Fairclo said. “We honor. They’re our guests and you can hear a pen drop in here. The best part of the whole assembly is when they do the march of the armed forces. Their branch stands up and our kids just go crazy, clapping and everything.”
After the assembly, veterans and their spouses are invited to stay for a free lunch.
“We’re turning our commons into a mess hall,” Fairclo said “We’ve got stuff like slop on a shingle, navy wavy burger, unique type of stuff. The kids will be waiting on them.”
The Dalles Middle School is also turning its library into a military
museum and stars
with the names of people that served will be posted
up and down the school’s hallway.
“In P.E. we’re doing a boot camp Monday,” Fairclo said.
“We’ve got people coming in that are like drill instructors. We’ll go through an obstacle course. It gives it more flavor that way. Every other class, they are incorporating something about Veterans Day into their curriculum.”
After he retires, Fairclo would like to set up Veterans Day assemblies in other schools.
As for the one at TDMS, he believes it is in good hands.
“We’ve got a booklet and this is going to self-run itself,” Fairclo said.
“They don’t need me. I’ll be back and I’ll probably help.
“I have access and we’re always looking for good speakers but I wouldn’t mind getting out to some of these smaller schools.
I think it’s really important and teaches respect. Kids will see that.”