Veterans receive hero’s welcome at Newport’s Mariners Elementary School

Military veterans received a hero’s welcome Thursday morning from students and faculty at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach as part of the campus’s annual Veterans Day celebration.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 325 recited the Pledge of Allegiance during a flag ceremony alongside 20 veterans representing various branches of the armed services and several wars before the vets headed into classrooms to share their stories.

Some arrived wearing their uniforms and medals, while others brought personal mementos.

As first-time visitor Norman Briggs, 73, prepared to talk with second- and third-graders, he said he would steer clear of war stories and instead “talk about fun things” like his experience as a paratrooper.

Briggs said he was in the Army reserve for 41 years and was stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He served as an infantry officer on two-year duty as a paratrooper.

Briggs set the scene for students and described a plane flying at 1,000 feet with all its doors open and carrying more than a dozen military personnel wearing two 30-pound parachutes.

He stood up to wave one hand above his head, making a motion similar to waving a lasso. It was a signal for paratroopers to stand up and get ready to jump off the plane.

“The first command makes you nervous,” he said. “This is it. You start getting ready and maybe your blood starts rushing.”

Paratroopers form a line, also called a stick, and begin patting each other down, making sure their parachutes are firmly attached.

“You just don’t do this willy-nilly — you go by command,” Briggs said. Some troops have drowned because they landed in water instead of on land, he added.

As the plane starts to slow down, paratroopers shuffle toward the “jump door.” At that point, “there’s no turning back,” Briggs said. Once the green light is given, the jump master slaps each paratrooper on the back and it’s time to jump, he said.

Students mimicked real paratroopers by forming a stick by the classroom door. One by one they shuffled toward the door and placed their hands against the frame. Once Briggs patted their backs, they bunny-hopped over the door’s threshold.

Briggs, who lives in San Diego, said in an interview that he felt it was important to offer a different perspective of a career “few soldiers can qualify for.”

Second-grader Katherine Harrington, 7, said her favorite part was jumping out the door, though she doesn’t picture herself pursuing a career as a paratrooper.

Fellow student Elias Zunzunegui said he enjoyed hearing about history.

“The kids love this,” said Teresa Hlista, a parent who has organized the veterans event the past five years. “It teaches kids what service is in our country, and they’re always so respectful. I’m most proud of these kids on this day — they just eat it up.”

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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