In its third year, Living History Day has become a beloved, student-led school tradition

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MIKE ANDERSON - Veterans from all generations, from World War II to active service, will gather to tell their stories and celebrate their service with Reynolds students Friday for Living History Day.

At the crack of dawn, students will carefully stake flags into the grass, hang a cargo net over the front of the school and roll down 30-by-40-foot flags.

Decorated with red, white and blue, every inch of the school will sparkle with patriotic memorabilia for the beloved school event.

Reynolds High School leadership students are spending more than 30 hours this week transforming their school into a living history museum, likely staying up into the wee hours the next couple nights.

Students expect to welcome more than 400 veterans to their third annual Living History Day on Friday, Nov. 8. The event coincides with Veterans Day, which is celebrated Monday, Nov. 11.

“Instead of learning from a history book, you’re able to learn from the actual history that walks through that front door,” said Cole Bronson, a senior and student body president. “These aren’t just words, they’re actual people and things and actions that happened.

“Instead of just going to school that day, (students) get to experience something not many people get to do.”

From World War II veterans in their 90s to currently enlisted military personnel, Friday’s special guests will share their stories with students and participate in a special veterans lunch and Assembly of Honor.

This year’s honorees include eight Bataan Death March survivors; Vietnam veteran Jerry Murray, who has been awarded two Silver Stars; and Alter Wiener, a Holocaust survivor and published author.

“This is a time to respect the people who fight for our country — to hear their stories and the things they’ve gone through is really eye-opening,” said Julianna Attard, a junior and student body “prime minister of spirit.”

Attard felt in awe of the Holocaust survivor who could stand before students and tell them everything he’d been through.

Reflecting on a previous event, Bronson said he was impressed by a veteran who served in Afghanistan and who was able to publicly tell his story for the first time, while Conor Stewart, a junior and student body sergeant at arms, recalls meeting a veteran who reunited with a man he had served with decades ago.

Leadership students noted that for some veterans, Living History Day could mark one of the first times they’ve been publicly recognized.

“The biggest thing is the one-on-one experience,” said Mike Anderson, activities director at Reynolds. “The firsthand meeting of someone who has a story that can never be repeated in a textbook — the five-minute conversation with a veteran who lived it, smelled it and breathed it.”

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MIKE ANDERSON - Reynolds High School will transform into a patriotic oasis this week for the third annual Living History Day.

Living History Day began in 1996 at Milwaukie High School, when Anderson was a freshmen. A teacher and alumnus, Ken Buckles, started the day as a way to educate students about Veterans Day.

Students decorated hallways and classrooms, fundraised and volunteered for Remembering America’s Heroes, which eventually became a nonprofit organization. The program began to spread to other schools throughout Oregon in 2002, reaching Reynolds in 2011.

Buckles helped Anderson introduce the tradition to the Raiders, and the students embraced it.

Guests now come from throughout the Portland area, with two charter buses visiting from Bend this year. Through Buckles, Reynolds also has developed a partnership with the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Anderson gives accolades to the many students who make Living History Day a reality.

Leadership students coordinate event planning and decorating, the Junior ROTC welcomes the veterans with a salute, the culinary arts program prepares a fully catered meal and the bands and choirs learn authentic military pieces in the months preceding the event.

“The energy is something we never replicate in any of our other assemblies,” Anderson said.

At the end of the day, students create a tunnel and clap for veterans as they exit through the line. Many are so moved they burst into tears, prompting students’ misty eyes.

“Many of my veteran buddies come over with tears in their eyes and say they’ve never been to an event like this in all their career,” said Dr. Philip Leveque, a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Army and will participate in Living History Day.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CONOR STEWART - Last year, junior and student body officer Conor Stewart connected with Art Martin, a retired principal and veteran of the Marines, Air Force and National Guard.

Retired principal and educator Art Martin was in uniform, beginning at age 17. He served during the Korean War and beyond, with the Marines, Air Force and National Guard

“This brings back so many memories,” Martin said. “I was in uniform for 65 years.”

Martin’s home in Northeast Portland pays tribute to his military career, filled with historic photos, plaques, shadow boxes and model airplanes. Some of his collection will be on display Friday.

Chuck Lusardi, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, said the event gives veterans an opportunity to talk to the next generation of young people about their leadership of the country.

At age 17, Lusardi was sent to Korea. He called his two years there a learning experience technically, ethically and psychologically.

“We appreciate that these students appreciate what veterans have done for their country,” Lusardi said. “I would simply ask all of our citizens to pay their respect when they see a veteran.”

Amid tough funding decisions, Reynolds decides each year whether to continue the event.

“I give my students the doomsday scenario — if we had a massive budget issue and could only put on one event, what would it be?” Anderson said.

For the last three years, it’s been unanimous to keep Living History Day.

“We plan assemblies and plenty of things that don’t seem to matter as much,” Bronson said. “This is really one of the most important things we could be part of.”

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