James McGalliard was a teen when he carried a gun in the jungles of Vietnam, but he survived the war, returned home, and spent 37 years as a policeman in Athens.
On Friday, this Vietnam War veteran stood before a class of fifth-graders and showed the pupils pictures of himself as an infantryman during the war. He let them pass around his medals. And beside him stood his granddaughter, who introduced him to the class.
Just like the three other military veterans in the class, he received a round of applause.
McGalliard and almost 50 veterans attended on Friday a special Veterans Day celebration at Colham Ferry Elementary School in Watkinsville.
The program started seven years ago during a social studies program at the school to honor veterans, Assistant Principal Chuck Cunningham said. The event went well and since then, children at the school have invited members of their families and others who served in the military to the special event, including a program by the children in which they sang patriotic songs and read poems.
The others speaking to students in Candi Hoard’s classroom were Connie Tippett, Billy Wiley, Allen Dockery and Leo Baker.
“This is the first year I haven’t had a World War II veteran in my room,” Hoard told one of the veterans.
Tippett, a nursing supervisor in Athens, spent 21 years in the U.S. Army Reserves and went to the Middle East in 1990-91, where she was based in Saudi Arabia. Dockery, who served with the U.S. Marines in 1968-71, spent his service in the U.S., where during the Vietnam War he repaired radios used in combat situations. Wiley served in the U.S. Navy in 1966-70, and for a period was in the ocean off Vietnam, where planes aboard his ship flew air strike missions; and Baker served with the U.S. Army in 1962-65, mostly with an engineering outfit in Europe.
Each one had a story to tell about their service.
Baker explained why he entered the Army in the early 1960s and compared it to the surge of new recruits who joined after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S.
“President Kennedy said we had a big possibility of going to war with Russia,” he recalled. “That’s when the missile crisis was in Cuba. I decided that (joining the Army) was the thing for me to do.”
Veteran’s Day is Sunday.