Farmington • Many of the 300 schoolchildren seemed to recognize, if only in a vague way, the Farmington native standing before them on Wednesday who was introduced as "the colonel who lives on Main Street with all the pretty tulips."
But many of the Knowlton Elementary students learned some new history about their neighbor, Col. Jay Hess, who fought in a war almost 50 years ago in a country named Vietnam, where he had spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war.
"He went through a terrible experience, and we wanted to thank him," said sixth-grader Jacob Kaholoaa, who dressed in his Boy Scouts' shirt to lead his peers in the Pledge of Allegiance.
As part of the school's Veterans Day activities, Hess participated by singing "God Bless America," putting on different hats to describe the military branches, and explaining his service in the Air Force from 1953, when drafted into the Korean War, to 1973, when released as a POW.
On a key day in 1967, Hess was on a mission over Northern Vietnam while piloting a F-105 Thunderchief, a supersonic fighter-bomber.
"It was a plane that would go really fast and carry bombs," the fit 82-year-old veteran said to the schoolchildren. "[But] one of them got pretty lucky and got meâ¦and I had to eject."
And for the next five-and-a-half years, Hess would be in a prison where he was beaten up for not doing as he was told or for not participating in the Vietnamese war "propaganda." Eventually, he was allowed to write a postcard to send home.
"My family finally knew I was still alive," Hess said.
During the assembly, Principal Grace Larsen explained the origin of Veterans Day and why it's a holiday honoring armed service veterans on Nov. 11. World War I formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th month of 1918 with Germany signing the Armistice.
She also explained the difference between Veterans Day,which celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, and Memorial Day, which remembers the men and women who died while serving.
"War is not good," Principal Larsen said to the students. "You're safe in the United Statesâ¦so I don't want you to be frightened."
At the end, Hess raised his hand to show a special bracelet similar to ones worn by Farmington residents more than four decades ago with Hess' name and the date his plane was shot down: Aug. 24, 1967.
"I'm grateful you appreciate veterans and thank you for being here," Hess said.
Fifth-grader Hannah Palomares, whose father serves in the Army, said she could relate to the day's activities, especially when thinking of her dad fighting in Iraq: "It was really sad because I didn't get to see him, but I'm happy because he's home now."
Twitter: @rayutah Davis District Celebrates Veterans
Holt Elementary: Students will sing and speak about the military, while showing a slideshow that honors community members serving in the armed forces.
Clearfield High: The school's JROTC will hold its annual Veterans Day ceremony honoring Clearfield alumnus Rocky Olson, who wrote a book about his combat experience: "Sgt. Rock, Last Warrior Standing."
Taylor Elementary: Second-graders will present a program of video clips and patriotic music.
Holbrook Elementary: Students will present their Hail to the Flag program, which highlights 50 flags that have flown all over the United States.
Centerville Elementary: Each grade will sing a patriotic song, while those serving in the military will be honored at a Veterans Wall in the main hallway.