Ed Sperry can tell exactly where he’s been every Veterans Day since 1975.
That’s the year that he officially retired from his military career. Since then, Sperry has made it a point to always remember his fellow veterans alongside the school children and community of Lone Rock.
“I’ve never missed one program,” Sperry said as he awaited his keynote speaker cue inside the school’s new gymnasium. “I love this place. Their Veterans Day program is special. It’s Americana at its best.”
Veterans Day at Lone Rock School begins with a breakfast shared with students and any veteran who would like to attend. The free coffee and breakfast event for veterans is hosted by the PTM and school’s student council.
Lone Rock Superintendent Scott Stiegler said he thinks the word is out about the good food and great company the event offers. On Monday, 41 veterans and their spouses joined students and staff at 7:30 a.m. for food and friendship.
“Most of us have a connection to a veteran in some way, whether the vet is a family member, neighbor or a friend,” Stiegler said. “Today is the day that our students and school community have the chance to interact with the veterans and active-duty personnel. It’s a festive way to demonstrate their appreciation.”
Monday's assembly included a number flag-waving songs, a speech by Sperry, a flag-folding presentation by the American Legion Fort Owen Post 94 and a reception line at its conclusion that gave students the opportunity to shake the hands of all the veterans who gathered there that day.
“You can see by their enthusiastic performances, artwork and the long reception line at the end, the children take it seriously and they genuinely show their gratitude,” Stiegler said. “Today’s assembly can, at times, be emotional for both students and vets. We saw that today and it clearly demonstrates the connections between students and our military veterans.
“Events like these are important to the vets and active duty members,” he said. “A young man from Florence, Todd Grace, stationed at Mountain Home, Idaho, serving in the United States Air Force, happened to be here on extended leave. He heard about the Veteran’s Breakfast and the assembly, so he came.
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“These events mean a lot to the vets far and wide,” Stiegler said. “It’s important that we show them our gratitude.”
Former Missoula police chief Jim Oberhofer was all smiles as knelt down to shake the hands of the young people filing by him. He served two tours in Vietnam and then went on to serve another 42 years in a career in law enforcement in Montana.
“I think this was great,” Oberhofer said, holding the handmade heart one of the students had handed him. “I’ll absolutely come again.”
Stiegler’s 94-year-old grandfather, Allen Miller, and Miller’s 97-year-old brother-in-law, Clete Johnson, both served in World War II. A Navy man, Miller was in the South Pacific, where he helped load munitions on aircraft. Johnson was a Marine who began his career in the infantry. The Marines took advantage of his ranch experience back home in the Bitterroot and put him to work as a farrier. Miller graduated from Lone Rock School in 1935.
Miller graduated from Hamilton High School in 1943 and joined the military right after that. Beyond supporting his grandson — “I’m very proud of him” — Miller said he’s certain any veteran who attended the Lone Rock Veterans Day assembly would come away moved.
“I’m just proud to be a veteran and to have the opportunity to represent my country,” Miller said. “I wanted to do what I could for it. It’s an honor to be here.”
Johnson, standing beside his friend, nodded in agreement.
“I just hope we never have to go through another one,” Johnson said. “This world is a lot different than what it used to be. I just hope the world never has to go through that again.”