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Rally honors military veterans

By: Kathy Maynard, Loomis News Correspondent
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An assembly last Friday inspired the Del Oro High School community to honor military veterans as well as the heroes in their own lives.

In a pep rally featuring an audience wave, videos, a rock music rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and inspirational guests and speakers, Battle for Veterans presented their first patriotic Honor Tour to nearly 2,000 Del Oro students, faculty, staff and community members at Del Oro High School on Jan. 25.

About 50 local veterans from Loomis American Legion Post 775, including members of the highly decorated 422nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese Americans in World War II, were welcomed into Bonner Gym with a spontaneous standing ovation and shouts of “USA! USA!”

“We are doing this so young people become aware of the sacrifices our local veterans make so that we can live the way we live, and educate communities how to say thank you,” said Mark “Coach” Soto, executive director of Battle for Veterans. 

After organizing the “Battle for the Capital” football invitational at Del Oro in 2010 to raise funds for injured veterans, the military father decided to retire from coaching to found a nonprofit group to help veterans transition from active duty to civilian life.

Keynote speaker Cmdr. James Bell, the Navy pilot who flew the F18 jet over Del Oro during the 2012 Battle for Veterans Football Invitational, commended Loomis for being a community that honors veterans.  He also recognized several students, teachers, coaches and office staff as heroes for instilling values, inspiring students and putting their team ahead of themselves.

“Whatever it is you do in your life, use duty, honor, country, courage and commitment as words to live by and you, too, will be a hero in this great country,” Bell said.

Retired Marine Lance Cpl. Tommy Parker, a triple amputee who first visited Del Oro during the 2011 Battle for Veterans Football Invitational, thanked the community for their patriotism and explained how important civilian support was to those serving in the military. He advised students that the most important thing anyone can do is set themselves up for success, whether or not they choose to go into the military.

“If that is something that you haven’t done, make sure you do because at some point in time, you’ll be on your own. Know where you are going and what you want to do,” Parker said.

The highlight of the event came when Soto surprised Parker with a new Action Trackchair, an all-terrain off-road wheelchair to maneuver safely through the mud and snow around his Montana home.

“We know you fell out of your chair and the community of Loomis and Del Oro wants to say thank you,” Soto said.

Soto invited students to honor the heroes among them and raise money for veterans and Del Oro by creating their own social media “Honor Page” on the Battle for Veterans website. Students will also be eligible to win a $1,000 scholarship.

Students and guests alike praised the presentation.

“I thought it was great to inspire students to make a life for yourself and identify and honor heroes,” said Gary Hongo, who served in the Air Force.

“They really did well honoring the vets and made it a lot of fun for students with the music and videos,” said Tanner Koonce, a DO senior who is going into the Air Force.

Student Joey Arcaro, a junior, said, “I’ve been at all the Battle for Veterans games and seen how much they’re doing for veterans. They’re doing an extraordinary job bringing high school students to realize what they are taking for granted.”

For more information, to make a donation or create an Honor Page, visit www.BattleForVeterans.org.