Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Essay Contest!

Students were judged on creative writing, grammar, originality, content, and theme focus. The winners will receive cash prizes, a ride in the parade, winning essays printed in the parade program and more.

We hope you enjoy this year’s excellent essays (below) – and look for the winners on the Hall of Flame fire truck in the Parade!

1st Place

Johnathan Gregus – Grade 12, Williams Field High School, Gilbert, AZ; Teacher: David Vaughn

Every year, Phoenix hosts an annual Veterans Day Parade. Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, began on November 11th, 1919, a year after WWI ended. In 1926, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance which allowed Veterans Day to become a national holiday beginning in 1938. Since then, we thank our soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom and our country. In this essay, I will be explaining how Veterans Day was formed and why we observe it.

World War I ended on November 11th, 1918, with 116,708 American soldiers losing their lives. In 1919, America proudly began honoring its veterans with its first Armistice Day Parade in New York City. In 1954, the Veterans Service Organization urged congress to replace the word Armistice with Veterans due to the additional wars of World War II and the Korean War. Today, Veterans Day is celebrated from small towns to large cities all with the purpose of honoring and showing appreciation to those who have served. It’s a chance for everyone to put aside petty differences and unite for a common cause in order to properly thank our Veterans.

Our service personnel deserve our utmost respect throughout the year and Veterans Day is an opportunity to remind everyone of that fact. Soldiers risk their lives to protect us and our rights so that we don’t have to. They defend our freedoms we enjoy in this country and they have a positive influence on our next generation of service personnel. My neighbor, Mark Billingsley, who was a Navy Pilot would always talk to me about what he did in the military and how his experiences shaped him into who he is today. I asked him what America would be like if we didn’t have a military and he responded with, “We would be speaking German or Japanese. The USA wouldn’t exist without a military, we would just be a conquered nation in the dustbin of conquered nations that no longer exist. From WWII history alone, Germany was close winning had our military not joined the fight in Italy.” The America we all know, and love would not exist without these brave soldiers defending our country.

I personally have been strongly influenced by the Armed Forces since I was very young. Holding these parades has allowed me to witness these brave men and women who have served our country and put their lives on the line for our safety and freedom. Realizing what these soldiers have done for us has influenced me to want to serve my country and I have elected to enlist with the Air Force National Guard. I am excited to dedicate myself to military service in order to sustain our country’s values that have been so honorably preserved by our Veterans. Veterans Day is truly remarkable.

2nd Place

Baylee Clore – Grade 12, Horizon High School, Scottsdale, AZ; Teacher: Yvonne Perot

What is courage? Courage can mean many different things for various people. Courage can mean bravery, doing what’s right, facing your fears, putting others before yourself, learning from your mistakes, and so much more. Our U.S. soldiers and veterans exhibit courage every single day, on and off the battlefield. They risk their lives and devote their time to protect our great country and keep us safe. They don’t just fight for the country and our government but also for us, our families, our rights, and everything else we are so fortunate to have. Americans often take these freedoms for granted because we can’t imagine what life would be like without them, and our soldiers fight every day so that we won’t ever have to see the day where our freedom is taken away from us.

The long-ravaging war in Afghanistan is a current example of this courage our soldiers show every day. Every veteran and soldier are a hero no matter what they did or how many medals they did or didn’t receive. Anyone who is willing to fight for our country is a true American hero. A small fraction of those heroes came from the war in Afghanistan. For example, Cpl. Kyle Carpenter was on a rooftop with Nick Eufrazio at a combat outpost when suddenly the Taliban began shooting. A grenade landed on the roof with the two soldiers, and with almost no thought, Carpenter jumped on the grenade to save his fellow soldier. Carpenter experienced many injuries but was fortunate enough to survive. He says if he could go back, he wouldn’t change a thing.

Another soldier whose bravery shined through was Staff Sgt. Robert Miller. His team was attacked with machine guns, and his captain was wounded. Miller decided to run across an open battleground in front of enemy fire so his team could escape to better positions. He was even shot along the way, but that didn’t stop him. He kept going and killed about a dozen on the enemy side in the process. The rest of his team survived, all thanks to Miller and his compassionate, courageous soul.

It’s hard to imagine sacrificing yourself and giving up your life for others, but many of these soldiers made the decision to put others before themselves. That is what true courage is. Whether it’s helping a friend with homework or saving someone’s life, a form of courage is being selfless and making decisions for the greater good. This idea of courage is why Americans need to continue honoring our heroes and veterans because they are role models to so many people across the nation. Without them, where would we be? Veterans do more for our country and people that most of us will never be able to comprehend, and for that, I am forever grateful for our heroes.

3rd Place

Lauren Kobley – Grade 12, Notre Dame Preparatory High School, Scottsdale, AZ; Teacher: Tracey Heisler

During my sophomore year of high school, my honors English teacher introduced me to Veterans Heritage Project. VHP’s mission is to support veterans in the local community by interviewing them and publishing their stories in books, which are then housed in the Library of Congress. I was instantly drawn to this club because of my love for writing and appreciation for veterans like my great-grandfather and grandfather. Even though I never had the opportunity to speak with either of them about their service to our country, I believe I can honor them by supporting veterans.

I have had the opportunity to participate in work that is meaningful to both veterans and students. By interviewing the veterans, I can help provide a safe outlet for veterans to share however much they feel comfortable and this is often a therapeutic experience for them. Knowing that I could be a part of helping a veteran opened my eyes up to the tremendous sacrifice they make for people they do not even know, a sacrifice that could have ultimately cost them their lives. These interviews showed me how the events I read about in history books affect people just like myself. I learned many lessons from the veterans I have interviewed. For example, a Vietnam veteran once told me, “It’s important to do your own job to the best of your ability, even if it’s not what you wanted. Because we are expecting the best of ourselves, it’s only fair we ask that our peers to do the same.”

Last year, I decided I needed to do more for the veterans I had come to know and love. I started to fundraiser for Honor Flight Arizona, a non- profit organization that pays homage to WWII and Korean War veterans by providing support to enable them to complete a three-day journey of honor and remembrance to their respective memorials in Washington, D.C. By the end of the year, I had raised over $21,000 which helped sponsor flights for 14 veterans to Washington, DC.

I also had the privilege of going on an Honor Flight. It opened my eyes and heart to the monumental sacrifices they have made for our country and its citizens, and it has given me an opportunity to build relationships like the one I would have hoped to share with my grandfather. It has shown me the importance of being dedicated to something you wholeheartedly believe in and taking a leadership role where one is needed. Perhaps most importantly of all, it has taught me that sacrifice – like a smile – is contagious. Never could I have anticipated the number of friends and family who saw my pure joy and asked if they could join me.

Because of all the lessons and life skills I have learned from veterans, I plan on continuing to help them for as long as I possibly can, and even that will be but a fraction of the support and respect they truly deserve.

Honorable Mention

Isabella Arias – Grade 12, Shadow Ridge High School, Surprise, AZ; Teacher: Maren Wenz

Brave men and women voluntarily sacrifice their lives and join the military in order to protect Americans. They say goodbye to their family, their friends, and their home without knowing if they’ll ever see any of it again. We honor all the men and women who have served or are serving in the military on Veterans Day, but we need to do more to show our appreciation to them and their families. America’s Heroes must be honored every single day, we must recognize that we get to live in a land of the free because of the brave.

The Veterans Day parade is a great way to honor America’s heroes, but you can’t throw a parade every day, instead you should do small acts daily to show your appreciation. Showing our recognition to the Veterans in our local community and thanking them for their service is something that could be done every day. My Tata is a Vietnam Veteran and for Christmas and his birthday we gave him Navy hats that he proudly wears and can show his sacrifice. When we go out, he wears his Veteran hat, and many people will go out of their way to come up to him and shake his hand and thank him for his service It brings great joy to my Tata. My Tata explained to me the backlash that Vietnam Veterans received on their return from war, many people didn’t think the US should go into Vietnam and when the US decided to join there were many protests. During this time, they were drafted, it wasn’t by choice. They enlisted into the service and did their duty as they were sworn to protect and serve. Some Veterans were drafted and other honorable chose to serve in our military.

Each generation has a group of heroes we look up to. Veteran’s from World War II and Vietnam are represented in my family through my Great Grandparents and Grandparents. I honor them, and all Veterans, by being grateful for the freedom that I have because of their sacrifice and paying it forward. Every April I run the Pat Tillman race, to honor Pat Tillman and all Veterans. Pat Tillman gave up his NFL career in order to serve as an Army Ranger after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Tillman Foundation honors soldiers by granting scholarships to future and former military members, by me doing their race every year I am helping contribute to honoring American Heroes. To show our gratitude to Veterans every day, whether it is saying thank you, buying a cup of coffee or a 10% discount on a meal. It is the least we can do to honor our heroes and show our Veteran’s the respect they deserve.