Those in attendance at Thursday morning's Veterans Day assembly at Philomath Middle School listen to guest speaker Lt. Col. Thomas J. Clifford. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In a patriotic presentation in Philomath Middle School’s gymnasium Thursday morning, students, staff and visitors listened to a guest speaker who touched on his own inspirational family history in the military, recognized retired service members in the audience and provided youngsters with a sense of the importance of veterans serving as a unifying force during times of uncertainty.

The words of Lt. Col. Thomas J. Clifford, a decorated Army veteran who is the department chair and professor of military science at Oregon State University, served the occasion well in recognition of Veterans Day, which officially falls on Nov. 11 but was observed Thursday with various on-campus assemblies.

The most moving moments during the presentation revolved around music. In particular, Philomath Middle School choir students sang a medley of the military service hymns for the Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force. Veterans stood when their song was presented, a few showing emotion while watching the kids sing.

The middle school’s seventh- and eighth-grade band played the National Anthem with the Oregon State University ROTC presenting colors and later played “Stars and Stripes Forever.” In another emotional moment, PMS trumpet players then presented “Taps.” There were a few other numbers from the band and choir, including the singing of “America the Beautiful.”

Asked what he hopes students take away from the Veterans Day assembly, Clifford referred to a Philomath Middle School Braves sports pledge, which hangs on the gym’s wall.

“Their Braves pledge about sums it up, you know — honor those by just simply being your best,” he said.

Army veteran Lt. Col. Thomas J. Clifford served as guest speaker for Thursday’s middle school program. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Clifford said he happily accepted the chance to speak at the assembly.

“This is always a phenomenal opportunity to help pass the message to our youth to recognize and honor the veterans that have fought to allow them to have the freedoms that they have and to celebrate that,” Clifford said.

Clifford spoke about family members who had served in the past, primarily his father, James Clifford, who started out in the Marine Corps for his first four years and then spent 30 years with the Army, retiring as a command sergeant major.

His father was 9 years old when he listened to President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address that included the historic quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Those words stuck with his father, a Brooklyn kid at the time who went to a military career that included several years as a combat medic. When Clifford himself was 24, he went to Washington, D.C. with his dad and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which lists the names of the more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in the war.

“I think that was the only time I saw my father shed a tear,” he said.

An Army veteran stands while the PMS choir sings a medley of military service songs. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The impact was lasting with Clifford enlisting in the Army in 1999.

“He is the best example of a veteran that I know and I try to emulate his actions as best I can,” he said in reverence to his father and went on to tell the middle schoolers that the true way to honor veterans is expressed “through deeds and not just words.”

The middle school program, established by retired teacher Diane Crocker in the early 1980s, was just one of those presented on Philomath School District campuses Thursday. An event at the high school included a luncheon reception.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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