CLARENCE — Last week’s Veterans Day assembly at the North Cedar High School was a tribute to those who have served and a long overdue thanks to a special Vietnam veteran.
Veterans of the various branches of the military — Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard — attended. The guest speaker was Bob Knight, who talked about his experiences while serving in the army during the Vietnam War.
The Veterans Day assembly is something students look forward to every year. This year’s assembly, as senior Leah Crock said, was “The best Veterans Day assembly I’ve ever attended.”
Knight talked about his time in Vietnam, noting his main base of operation was in the Iron Triangle, serving for two years. He was the radio operator and a machine gun operator. Machine gun operators usually are the first to get shot at, so he is very lucky to be alive today. That area contained a lot of jungle.
“The jungle was so dense you could be feet away from the enemy and not know it until it was too late,” Knight said during his speech.
His unit was just infantry at the start, but was eventually picked to go mechanized.
“Bad part about being mechanized was snipers, booby trap mines and not to mention all the jungle critters you’d get when you were on the ground,” he said.
Knight, when asked where he got the ideas for his speech, said “I just tried to highlight what it’s like to be an infantry in Vietnam without getting into the gory details.”
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It was hard for Knight to talk about Vietnam for a long time after he got home. Then Dave Hunt, a good friend, convinced Knight to start talking in his history classes. Knight found out talking about his experiences helped and kept the people who did not come home alive. It was his daughter, Kelly Kunkel, who came up with the idea to have him speak at the assembly.
“He’s been speaking for many years now and I know how much he enjoys talking about it,” she said. “So I figured it’d be a good year for him to do it.”
Other students also spoke during the assembly.
At the beginning, Boy Scout Troop #160 posted the colors. Then, Grace Proesch read a poem titled “Freedom is not Free” by Kelly Strong. Jaylin Pearson lead the school in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The national anthem was led by the high school concert choir.
Mikayla Burcum gave her introductory remarks and Tessa Fields, Carly Montz, Ethan St. John and Karlie Proesch spoke about the Korean War Memorial. Afterward, Makayla Schluter quoted Barack Obama and began a moment of appreciation for the veterans in attendance.
Brady Lehrman introduced the junior high band, which played the Service Branch Medley Intro.
Brittyn Wilhau introduced Knight, whose speech was followed by Leah Crock and Keynan Pearson talking about the history of the WWI Armistice. Katie Thompson led the assembly in a moment of silence, then introduced Pavin Esbaum and Makayla Schluter, who played Taps.
The closing remarks were said by Lydia Esbaum and Nicole Sander, then the Boy Scout troops retired the colors.
Knight noted that Vietnam veterans were not respected when they returned home.
“I flew into a nation full of hate,” he said. “They blamed us for the war ... almost ashamed to take part.”
Knight thinks veterans are much more respected now than they were when he was coming home.
At the end of his speech, he got a standing ovation and some students held up signs saying “Welcome Home” and “Thank You for Your Service.”
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As Knight finished his speech, his daughter turned him toward the audience so he would see the signs.
“It feels good,” he said. “When they (Americans) said that they were trying to make us feel welcomed back it’s kind of like putting a band aid on a scar. Today’s soldiers and yesterday’s soldiers all have these scars. So when you see a vet, thank him ... He did what he needed to do so we could do what we do today.”
Knight truly an inspiration to the whole North Cedar community and very deserving of our thanks, even if it was 50 years late.