Navy veteran Michael Koontz is keen on seeing that Elma High School maintains its tradition of honoring our country’s service members through the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly, which is scheduled to be held this year on Nov. 9 at 10 a.m.
Koontz, who along with his wife Beverly is employed as a special education paraeducator at Elma High School, is the person responsible for coordinating the assembly, though he says he tries to take a hands-off approach to the greatest degree possible.
“It was the goal on my part, as the person coordinating the veterans assembly, to make it as student-led as possible,” Koontz told The Vidette.
Currently about 120 students are involved in putting together the assembly’s program. These include students from the high school’s band, choir, FFA chapter, Associated Student Body leadership, football and basketball cheer squads, and dance and drill team.
The popular assembly focuses on veterans who are former students and their family members. It typically includes the display of flags from all branches of the service, a band performance, the choir singing an extended version of the national anthem, setting of the POW-MIA table, and a recitation of the symbolic meaning of the American flag’s 13 folds.
The assembly’s main focus, however, is a Power Point presentation of community members who have served, which right now stands at 174 slides in length, Koontz said. Veteran guests are honored. Koontz said he plans for next’s year’s assembly to focus on honoring the wives and families of service members, whose sacrifices he said he feels are sometimes forgotten.
Koontz took over the duty of coordinating the assembly from former Elma teacher Giovanni Colombo. He also credits high school history teacher Sean Ekerson for his hard work on the assembly’s program.
Speaking of his personal military service, Koontz, who is originally from Longview, said he spent eight years enlisted in the Navy and says he wishes to make a distinction between his own contributions and those of combat veterans.
“I’m a Vietnam-era veteran, but I do not consider myself to be a Vietnam veteran,” he said, noting he entered the service in 1975 as the Vietnam War was drawing to close. “I came onto a ship that was part of the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the operations there.”
Poignant among Koontz’s memories of service aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hancock is returning to port with the casket of a childhood friend and fellow service member who had joined the Navy prior to Koontz. That friend, Tery Wilson, was among the last combat casualties of Vietnam.
“I have just a real place in my heart for peacetime military personnel, those who haven’t fought in a war or been deployed,” Koontz said. “I think sometimes they get overlooked. But that’s not to not recognize the ones who have. So for me, saying I’m a Vietnam-era veteran, but not a Vietnam veteran, is really important.”
He added that he says making that distinction better honors those who have served in combat situations as well.
‘The average person would really be surprised by how many service personnel … lose their lives during peacetime as they prepare and as they serve in their roles in various places,” Koontz said.
Asked why he believes his local community is such a patriotic one, Koontz said he thinks its part of the makeup of the area’s people.
“It’s just in front of them. It’s part of their heritage. These kids don’t know anything other than patriotism, respect, and appropriate honor of our veterans,” he said.
In the 12 years he’s been with the school district three Elma graduates have given their lives while on active duty.
“I would put Elma High School up against any school I’ve seen or know of for their sense of patriotism and their honor and respect for military personnel and veterans,” Koontz said.
For his service and his dedication to the community and other veterans, Koontz was selected by the Elma VFW to serve as grand marshal of the Elma Veterans Day Parade.
The City of Elma will begin its celebration of Veterans Day on November 11 with a memorial ceremony at 11 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park. The parade follows on Main Street at 1 p.m.
Montesano High School will hold its annual veterans breakfast at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 9. Its Veterans Day assembly will follow at 9 a.m.