Gardnerville Elementary fifth-graders Bayla Fitzpatrick and Kennedy Lash had no complaints about going to school early Friday morning and standing in the frosty cold with handmade signs and American flags.
"It's special for me this year," said 10-year-old Bayla, "because I'm older and know what they've done and how to respect them. They've done more for us than we have for them.
"They've risked their lives," added Kennedy, also 10. "I think they've had it much harder than we have."
The two classmates were part of a welcoming party for the school's annual Veterans Day assembly. And a hero's welcome it was. Not only was there a brigade of greeters on the street and in the parking lot before the assembly, but the entire school, its hallways and multipurpose room, were decked out with flags, stars, balloons and bunting.
"Robbie Jacobsen started this 20 years ago," explained fifth-grade teacher Dana Rosingus, who was outside directing traffic. "She has inspired a lot of people at GES to be more patriotic and appreciate everything veterans do. People say it's their favorite assembly of the year. I think why it's important for teachers is that it shows students that we need to give back."
Veterans enjoyed coffee and snacks in the front office.
"We're honored to be able to do it," said Principal Shannon Brown.
The guests were not shy about their feelings of gratitude.
"I think it's wonderful. These teachers go to a lot of trouble to set the whole thing up before hand, and it's really appreciated," said Dick Ramsden, an 86-year-old Gardnerville resident and World War II veteran.
Ramsden was a first class radio man for the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific theater. On one mission, his ship was sunk, and he had to survive at sea for many days.
"The students need to know and appreciate the sacrifices others make during these times," he said.
Carson City resident Michael Stastny, 66, was a second class petty officer for the Navy. He said he was fortunate to serve in the Mediterranean during the Vietnam War.
"It's humbling," he said. "These kids see old men, young men and women up there, and they know that anyone can serve."
Stastny said service and sacrifice will require more maturity for most students to fully comprehend, but he said the assembly provides early exposure to the ideas.
"At least, it plants a seed," he said. "My favorite part is when the kids the line up, shake our hands and say thank you."
Representing all five military branches, 42 veterans filed onto the stage of the school's new multipurpose room. There they became the center of attention for nearly an hour as students and staff members sang patriotic songs, recited poetry and stories and presented oral histories.
Jacobsen called it a "sea of red, white and blue." She pointed to Tuesday's election as proof of America's ongoing democratic process, which men and women have, and are still willing, to defend with their lives.
"Because of the sacrifices made by people on this stage with me, democracy is alive and well," she said.
After a moving tribute to Gold Star Moms Sally Wiley and Debbie Walker, whose sons were killed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, Jacobsen explained the significance of an empty, white-draped table at the foot of the stage.
The white table-cloth, she said, symbolized the "purity of the motives of those answering the call of duty." The singleton rose in a vase represented each individual life of America's missing service men and women. A ribbon looped to the vase was the nation's determination to find them. And although a lemon slice represented the bitterness of their fate, and a pinch of salt the tears of their family members, there was a single candle standing on the table to symbolize the light of America, "always the light of the world in darkness."
Topaz Ranch Estates resident Thom Lallement has attended the event for years, not just as a spectator, but as a bugle player.
"I love to play for my heroes. They can't keep me from it," he said. "We are honoring people who made this country what it is. They're not just stories in a book. They're the real deal, and we have to thank them."
Minutes later, he was playing "Taps" on his bugle, each melancholic note piercing the air like the report of a rifle.
Jacobsen urged students to "remember why you don't have to come to school on Monday."