A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kelly Elementary students unveil their traveling tribute wall for fallen vets — with a big ceremony

By Steve Oldfield
Children, Inc.

Students at Kelly Elementary in Burlington learned “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to honoring our veterans. Fifth graders spent the entire school year planning a traveling tribute to local soldiers killed in the line of duty. The ceremony unveiling their memorial wall featured a bagpiper, sports cars and motorcycles, a former Miss America – and even a skydiver who landed right in front of the school.

Skydiver Larry Compton from Team Fastrax in Middleton dropped in on the event. (Photo provided)

“To be a part of this is very gratifying,” said Skydiver Larry Compton from Team Fastrax in Middletown, Ohio. His group heard about the project at the last minute and pulled the necessary strings to get FAA clearance for the special landing that included a giant flag honoring the vets and their families.

“It all went even better than we imagined,” said Glenda Raney, one of the teachers who organized the event.

“They knocked it out of the park,” said 12-year-old Parker Madden, whose father Russell was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Parker and his family were the guests of honor along with the loved ones of 13 other gold star veterans from the region.

“Most people don’t know what us families have been through,” said Madden. “I was just amazed at how well the memorial wall was done – it’s really great.”

Madden spoke at the event along with Heather French Henry, a former Miss America who serves as Kentucky’s Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs.

Kelly Elementary students participate in ceremony.

“It’s amazing to see what children can do when you ask them to honor our heroes,” French Henry said. “Watching these kids at Kelly Elementary was such a great inspiration to me that children DO know about the cost and the price of freedom. It’s a great tribute to those fallen heroes.”

The students received a letter of commendation from Congressman Thomas Massie (R-4th District) sent from his office in Washington, D.C. “It is encouraging to know that young students such as yourselves have taken the initiative to put this project together,“ Congressman Massie wrote. “Thank you for all of your hard work.”

Last fall, students interviewed family members and wrote bios for each of the gold star veterans. They also collected photographs and built a memorial wall which is now on display at the Krogers in Hebron (3105 N. Bend Road) before heading to other sites around the region.

The students received help from master carpenter Lee Doyle and funding from the Ralph Fulton VFW Hall, Florence American Legion and the Boone County Innovation grant.They also partnered with Patriot Guard Riders, the Combat Motorcycle Riders, and Vettes for Veterans who showed off their vehicles at the event.

Parker Madden, con of fallen soldier Russell Madden, thanked students during the ceremony unveiling a memorial wall to gold star veterans as former Miss America Heather French Henry looks on.

The project received a prestigious Jefferson Award, presented by Children, Inc. as one of the top service-learning projects in the Greater Cincinnati area this school year.

Students capped off the opening ceremony with a basketball game between the kids and Boone County Sheriff’s deputies.

For all of the fun and excitement, students and others in attendance never lost sight of the reason that brought them all together.

“We’re here to let the gold star veterans and their families know they’re not forgotten,” said skydiver Compton. “We honor their service and we’re deeply regretful for their loss.”

“It’s really worth it because we’re bringing back the memories of their loved ones,” said Alexis, a fifth grader. “This is for the brave men who were killed helping to keep us free.”

The Wall

Former Miss America Heather Henry and veterans who participated in the ceremony.

The ceremony

From the skydiver

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