Archived photo from the 2011 Mass for Veterans

That is the theme of this year’s Veteran’s Day Parade and related student essay contest — two Catholic school students fared well there. Today is officially Veteran’s Day with the traditional parade commencing tomorrow (the designated federal holiday) at 11 a.m. in order to minimize the disruption of traffic. Check event page for map and details.

Expect 40-foot-tall helium balloons, numerous floats, musical bands, military vehicles, marching units and more. Spectators will also see winners of the annual student essay contest. Their 300-500-word pieces reflected on the theme.

Michael Venable, a seventh-grader at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe and Leila Grant, a sixth-grader at St. Francis Xavier, earned second place in respective middle- and elementary school divisions. They each won a $150 savings bond. You might find their full essays in the parade program. They’re also available for download online.

Grant’s 431-word piece clearly spells out its aim: “My goal is to leave you putting this paper down speechless and inspired with a mind of interest and thought,” she wrote in the opening paragraph. She went on to describe her Aunt Gurt, a doctor who twice went to Iraq to operate on wounded soldiers and couldn’t bear a third trip. Grant also recalled praying for veterans each year during her school’s Grandparents Day celebration.

Display at the 2011 Veterans Mass

She described war as “one big, bloody mess,” a time when people cry, ask “why me?” and a time when people fight for a country and for rights. She continued:

But not all veterans fight, they investigate, make plans for surprise attacks, and most of the time, they are doctors or simply people on a mission.  All of these thoughts are beliefs of many.  That’s why I think Veterans Day is one of the most respected days of the year.

Venable’s 465-word essay focused on his uncle, an Army lieutenant who retired in 2009 after 21 years of service. His uncle is a second generation veteran who went through ROTC and served tours of duty in four foreign operations. It wasn’t until his time in Iraq that he understood the true impacts of war — how it affected the civilians and the soldiers, Venable wrote. He carries the names of three friends killed in combat on a key chain in his pocket.

Venable also wrote (starting with a quote from his uncle):

 “Americans should understand that veterans serve because they want to make a difference, but are not any better than anyone else.  They set aside their normal lives to help defend our great nation and what it stands for.”  Many of the veterans do not see themselves as heroes or as better than other American.  They do not feel special, but they appreciate when people thank them for their work.