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The Veterans Day assembly Friday at Southeast High School in Oklahoma City Public Schools seemed to live up to its reputation as one of the best for that particular day.

Leonard Sparagowski, WWII veteran
Leonard Sparagowski, WWII veteran

Cadets from the Junior ROTC program carried out both solemn ceremonies and spirited drills.

Veterans across the full possible age spectrum were present and seemed happy to be there.

One Marine graduated from Southeast in May and was back after having gone to boot camp.

Two World War II veterans in their 90s were there in wheelchairs, and wore caps that had their unit designations visible. World War II ended in 1945.

Clayton Barnwell, WWII veteran
Clayton Barnwell, WWII veteran

Clayton Barnwell and Leonard Sparagowski both served in Europe during WWII and said they looked forward to coming back to the Veterans Day assembly at Southeast every year.

Many of the younger honorees were graduates of the south side school at 5104 S Shields Boulevard.

POW-MIA ceremony

A unique and solemn part of the ceremony has become a tradition of the Southeast Veterans Day assembly.

POW-MIA ceremony, Veterans Day
POW-MIA ceremony, Veterans Day

The POW-MIA ceremony honors those who were prisoners of war or who have remained missing in action.

Senior members of the Southeast Junior ROTC marched to a round table set with four place settings. On each plate was the cover (uniform hat) for each branch of the military: Army, Navy, Marine Corp and Air Force.

Cadets carried out a symbolic ceremony to honor those who are not present to sit at a table with the rest of us because of their military service.

Their style of movement was rigid, paced and deliberate, similar to the type of movements carried out by the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Master Sgt. Michael Joseph, Ret.
Master Sgt. Michael Joseph, Ret.

Air Force Master Sergeant Michael Joseph has been one of the instructors of the Junior ROTC program at Southeast for 19 years.

Free Press talked with him after students had gone back to class. We asked what effect the ceremony has on their students each year.

“It kind of gives them an idea of what they have now and who provided it for them,” Joseph said. “Even with me, those two WWII gentlemen who were here today, that was amazing. ”

Recent graduates

Several recent graduates were honored in front of the student body for their service.

Afterward, Free Press talked with two of them who are still in uniform.

Marine Pfc. Joseph Al Batati
Marine Pfc. Joseph Al Batati

Marine Pfc. Joseph Al Batati just graduated from boot camp in San Diego, California.

He was dressed in his “A” uniform with the distinctive black coat, white gloves, blue pants and white cover.

Most Marines graduate from boot camp as privates. Private First Class is the next rank above that.

Al Batati said that he was able to graduate from boot camp as a Private First Class because of his Junior ROTC leadership at Southeast and because of meritorious performance in the boot camp process.

“I’m glad to come back as a Marine and honor other Veterans,” said Al Batati.

It was a doubly special day for him, because Friday was the 242nd birthday of the Marine Corps.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Eric Pham
Air Force 2nd Lt. Eric Pham

Air Force 2nd Lt. Eric Pham graduated from Southeast in 2012. After being in Junior ROTC at the high school, he went on to college where he earned a commission in the Air Force after being in the ROTC program.

He is in flight training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, and proudly wore his flight suit to the assembly.

“Working 12-hour days has been an adjustment, but I’m getting used to it now,” Pham said about the rigors of flight training.

Faculty and veteran

Southeast faculty member Curtis Thompson is the girls’ basketball and cross-country coach.

His active duty and reserve time in the Army adds up to 26 years.

“This ceremony helps the students to learn what freedom is and who gave their lives for it,” said Thompson. “It’s an important commemoration for all of our students each year.”

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