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The Kelso community came together to honor local veterans Friday morning at Kelso High School.

After a free breakfast for veterans and their guests, high school students and more than 50 local veterans gathered in the gym to hear poems, hold a moment of silence for those who have died in the line of duty, and honor the veterans in attendance.

Eugene Ivankin, Associated Student Body president at KHS, said the students planned the ceremony to show gratitude for the men and women who have served and to give veterans a chance to reflect.

Ivankin said he and fellow ASB members spent many mornings practicing pronunciation of the names of local service members who died in the line of duty. The band and choir also put in hours of practice to perform numerous patriotic songs for the ceremony.

“It took a lot of morning practices to get the names of people and places right, to make sure we didn’t disrespect or dishonor anyone by mispronouncing the name,” Ivankin said.

He said throughout the planning process, he kept in mind that this event was for the veterans, not necessarily for students.

“This is one of our only formal assemblies, and one of the only chances where the community can come together to respect these people and show gratitude for what they do for us,” Ivankin said.

Brent Carpenter, who served in the Marine Corps from 1966 to 1972, appreciated the ceremony.

“To me, it’s about respect, and for the kids to see that veterans have done things for the country,” Carpenter said.

The event is “a chance to “see friends you haven’t seen in years.”

One of Carpenter’s friends, veteran Don Evans, said he liked seeing young people arrange such an event.

“It’s good to see young people in a positive way,” said Evans, who served in the Marine Corps from 1959 to 1963. “I have so much hope for them, and that’s not something you see reported a lot in the news.”

For veteran Dick Woods, the ceremony is an important teaching moment.

“It’s important for young people to realize that freedom comes at a cost,” Woods said. “Sometimes they lose sight of that.”

Woods, who served in U.S. Army 25th Infantry division from 1953 to 1955, said he has attended the ceremony before. While war is not a pleasant subject, especially for young people, it’s vital to talk about it, he said.

“It’s not something anyone likes, but it’s a necessary evil,” Woods said. “I don’t support the concept, but we need to understand it as a society.”

The assembly at KHS was one of several district events held to honor veterans in the run-up to Veterans Day Monday. Coweeman Middle School also held a student-organized ceremony, and students at Huntington Middle School painted more than 50 rocks with American flags, yellow ribbons, camouflage and red poppies, then scattered them throughout Kelso and Longview.

The students want the rocks to create a ripple of appreciation for veterans, and are asking people to share images of the rocks they find on social media with the hashtag #HMSRockChallenge throughout November, according to a press release.

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