Students from Four Rivers Community School thank veterans at the end of the Veterans Day Ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 11, at Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario. (The Enterprise/LES ZAITZ)

ONTARIO – One by one, the high school students from Four Rivers Community School shook the hand of a local veteran and said “thanks.”

The veterans, gathered for the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Four Rivers Cultural Center, sat in a row or stood.

The attention of the students, who also handed a “thank you” bag of treats, clearly touched the men and women long retired from service. They couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

The finish to the Ontario ceremony was a good counterpoint to a key message delivered on Thursday, Nov. 11. The talk centered on the toll of suicide among veterans.

The event took place under gray skies at the flag poles in front of the cultural center.

Connie Tanaka, Malheur County’s veterans service officer, opened the event, following by Dan Burks, commander of American Legion Post 67.

Burks told the history of the American Legion and its formation after the end of World I. He asked those in the audience to close their eyes and imagine the coldest day they could and consider that soldiers endured such conditions for days and sometime months.

Don Weber, commander of the Oregon Department of the American Legion, touched on the turbulence of the times, and noted that veterans delivered a “legacy of freedom.”

But Weber said that suicides among veterans are a top concern of the American Legion. He said an estimated 20 a day take their lives.

“This is a tragedy for all Americans,” he said.

He urged veterans and others to do “buddy checks” on veterans and help “remove all the stigma for asking for help.”

State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, urged people to get acquainted with veterans for the wisdom and experiences they can share.

“Spend some time with them and go drink a cup of coffee,” Findley said.

He urged the high school students to help, too, with volunteer tasks such as mowing a veteran’s lawn.

Cherrie Moore, Four Rivers high school teacher, said students begin learning about veterans in kindergarten at Four Rivers. As they get older, students in normal times do perform chores and attend meal events.

Ahead of the ceremony, the high school students crafted personal cards and artwork to go into bags for the veterans.

Moore said 81 students attended the flag ceremony.

“It’s really become a tradition with our kids,” she said. “They love it.”

Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email with tips or ideas: [email protected]

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