Mariners school honors veterans

It's been 68 years since Eddie Felix worked in the boiler room of the USS Cowpens during World War II, but he recalls events as if they happened yesterday.

The keynote speaker Monday at Mariners Christian School's 11th annual Veterans Day commemoration shared his naval experiences with a gathering of more than 700 students, veterans and their families.

Felix, now in his late 80s, left his family for Navy boot camp two days after he graduated from high school. To calm his parents, he devised a secret code to let them know where he was stationed.

"I would begin the first word with the first letter of the place I was nearest to," he said. "They seemed to figure it out."

One of the most memorable moments aboard the ship was when the crew hit Typhoon Cobra in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in December 1944. The two-day storm was treacherous for the crew aboard the aircraft carrier.

"Our ship was listing 45 degrees on each side," he said. "The only choice we had was to push all the planes over the side and cut them loose."

The proud veteran was as excited to return home as he had been to enlist. He said his homecoming and seeing his parents again was the best day of his life.

As part of the celebration Monday, students at the school in Costa Mesa sang patriotic songs and gave the audience a glimpse into the country's wars by sharing veterans' stories from many of the nation's conflicts.

Mariners hosts the event not only to honor veterans but also to teach students the importance of patriotism, said Bob Sladeck, head of school.

"We live in a time where patriotism is waning when it should be on the rise," he said.

Sladeck encouraged each of the students at the assembly to look around the room at the veterans and celebrate them.

"Your generation does not have a lot of heroes. These are heroes," he said. "These are men and women who have sacrificed so you could be free."

Even before Veteran's Day, students at Mariners were learning about the military.

The school recently adopted the air wing of the USS Harry S. Truman, which is on a nine-month deployment.

Mariners administrators announced their donation of about $12,000 to the air wing of the ship. Part of the money will be donated in phone cards, so those on board can call their families for the holidays.

Eighth-grade students also shared their experiences traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the country's monuments in a video presented during the assembly.

Each October, eighth-graders at Mariners participate in a class trip to the East Coast, giving them a unique perspective on the nation's history.

One of the most memorable places Lucas Mowery visited was the Arlington National Cemetery.

"There were graves as far as the eye could see," he said. "I had learned all the numbers, but it was impossible to comprehend how many people were killed fighting for our country."

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