Some of the regular classes at Loudoun Country Day School near Leesburg were put on hold this morning, as they are every Veterans Day. Instead, students got an up-close lesson in what it means to protect the freedoms enjoyed in the United States.
Seventy men and women who have served in the military rotated classrooms to share their experiences and offer words of hope to a captivated audience of kids, from 5 to 13 years old.
U.S. Army veteran Chris Collver, who has spoken at the school’s annual Veterans Day program for 18 years, considers it vital to take time to teach young people about those who are fighting to protect the country. “By getting to hear from veterans, they understand what a vet is—that their liberty is defended by those willing to take up their sword,” Collver said with tears in his eyes.
Students also heard from Rob Jones, a 2003 Loudoun Valley High School graduate, who lost his legs to an I.E.D. explosion while serving in Afghanistan. He spent years in physical therapy learning to run, row and ride a bike using prosthetic legs. He won a bronze medal in rowing at the 2012 Paralympics in London. Two years later, he cycled from Maine to San Diego to raise $125,000 for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, a Leesburg-based organization that helped him in his recovery.
Now, his sights are set on next summer when he plans to run a marathon every day for a month.
“People ask me, why are you doing all this? Because I want to,” he said. “I wanted to get back on my feet and represent my country.”
Retired Marine Sgt. Matthew Pennington, a member of the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, talked about how he lost part of his left leg when he stepped on an I.E.D. explosion. It was painful and frustrating to suddenly experience a disability after having a perfectly good body for 20 years, he said. “But you can’t quit in life. You just can’t.”
He told the students to learn to love to fail. “Every failure is a lesson. The worst thing you can do is let it get you down,” he said.
Retired Marine Cpl. Donny Daughenbaugh, who is now a national spokesman for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, told the students how he was shot in the jaw while serving in Iraq. One of the toughest part of his recovery was knowing he couldn’t serve in the military anymore. But he said giving back, and serving others here at home, has helped.
He nudged the students to celebrate Veterans Day in their own way, and not just today.
“You can thank people for their service and do small things throughout the year to show your appreciation,” he said. “That really means a lot.”