Young students, oldest Marine

Reed Middle School honors vets with ceremony, gifts

By Amos Bridges
News-Leader Staff

As the crowd of students at Reed Middle School applauded, the man believed to be the oldest living Marine in the United States stood and saluted as he was presented a folded flag.
The Rev. Fred E. Robb of Springfield, 108 years old and the only surviving World War I veteran in Missouri, was among about a dozen members of the armed forces honored Thursday at a special school assembly.

The veterans represented all four branches of the military and every American war of the past 100 years.

Supported at times by a pair of fellow Marines, the seemingly indomitable former Navy chaplain who also served in World War II and Vietnam later raised his arms and flashed the "V for victory" sign.

In front of a packed auditorium, each veteran was presented with an American flag and other gifts, including four quilts made by Reed students in their technology class.

Sgt. Richard Lamar, 24, was the youngest veteran honored at the event. The Marine, who returned from Iraq in May 2003, said he was humbled to be included.

"It's not very easy for me (to be on stage with the other veterans)," Lamar said. "It doesn't seem like I've been back very long. ... The people that should be up there aren't able to be here."

Meeting Robb was also an honor, Lamar said: "That's one helluva guy."

The veterans assembly, held for the fifth year, is probably the most elaborate of the year, said Warren Farmer, the Reed technology and home economics teacher who organized the event.

Farmer, who served four years as a corporal in the Marine Corps, is a 31-year veteran of the Springfield school system. He organized the first assembly in 2000.

"I just thought it was time to start honoring veterans," said Farmer, who is retiring at the end of the year.

The production included performances by the school choir, drum corps and a country trio, as well as poetry readings, and Farmer gave all the credit to the student volunteers.

"They all want to be in it," he said, but the hard work winnows out the uncommitted.

"Some students don't take it as serious as some others do," said eighth-grader Roxana Taranu. "But if you're involved in it, you take it more seriously."

The effort is educational as well, said Dominica Pigford, also in the eighth grade. Pigford read a poem and helped introduce the veterans at the assembly.

"You learn more about the people you read about."

In return, the students earned considerable appreciation from the veterans they honored.

"I don't see how it could have been any better," said Harold Hall, a radio interceptor in the Navy during World War II. Hall and his wife, Belle, came in for the assembly from Ohio.

After learning the code used by the Japanese, Hall was stationed at a hidden base in Australia during the conflict.

"I had to pick (Japanese radio transmissions) out of the air," he said, chuckling. "I was lucky I didn't have to shoot anybody, and nobody shot at me."

World War I veteran the Rev. Fred Robb, 108, puts his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance during a program honoring veterans at Reed Middle School.
Dean Curtis / News-Leader