Local members of the Armed Forces — from World War II to Operation Desert Storm — represented living history Thursday during a Veterans Day celebration at Wilson Middle School that included tributes through songs and videos as well as plaques and speeches.
Test pilot Bob Gilliland, Alamo Scout Dick Guyer, Vietnam veteran Roscoe Frazier Jr. and Desert Storm surgeon Frederick Lamarr Stafford were either present or represented by family members at the gathering organized by Wilson teacher Pete Regli.
“I believe we’ve been doing this for about 19 years, and it’s improved every year,” Regli said. “It’s our way of thanking the veterans and bringing to life history for many students that just don’t know.”
The assembly was a bit emotional for attorney Robert Gilliland Jr. His father, Bob, attended the annual gathering for years, but passed away this past Fourth of July at age 93.
“I remember my dad and [famed veteran] Louis Zamperini coming to these events and talking, and they were best friends,” said Robert Gilliland, who added he was happy to take up his father’s mantle. “Pete called me this year and asked if I would come, and I said ‘sure, absolutely.’”
Robert Gilliland and Wilson students watched a film that included some of his father’s flights as a Lockheed test pilot flying the world’s fastest aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird.
The elder Gilliland first test flew a Blackbird at Edwards Air Force base on Dec. 22, 1964, and holds several air-speed records.
Along with the film featuring Blackbird highlights, there was also a History Channel presentation about the Alamo scouts, a group considered by some military analysts as the forerunner to today’s Navy Seals and Green Berets.
Guyer was in attendance and, according to Regli, is thought to be the only member of the Alamo Scouts to have visited Wilson.
The Scouts were a group of soldier/spies commissioned during World War II, operated in the Pacific theater and specialized in rescue raids, according to the CIA.
Guyer was helped by family members from his front seat in the school’s auditorium to the stage to receive a plaque and a long round of applause from Wilson students.
“Bringing living history to the kids is amazing,” said host Chris Markos, a seventh-grade world history instructor at Wilson. “As a history teacher, I try to give them more than just numbers, facts and words.”
Markos added, “Seeing people alive, seeing a video, seeing real life, something that’s not fake, it really connects with the students.”
There was also a hearty round of applause for Frazier, a former sergeant first class who served for 20 years, including multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, and received six Bronze Stars as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Also, Maj. Frederick Lamarr Stafford was honored for his battlefield work as an Army surgeon during Operation Desert Storm.
Markos also acknowledged the school’s veterans: librarian Anita McCarthy, who served in the Air Force, and science teacher Gina Taylor, who served in the Navy.
Along with videos and speeches, the veterans were serenaded by the school’s wind ensemble and choir.
“We’re grateful for this phenomenal opportunity for us to honor our veterans and instill the patriotism among our students,” Wilson principal Narek Kassabian said. “We like to invite local veterans and take the opportunity to understand that this is a day of remembrance and reflection.”