It was late on the calendar but not for a group of Pauls Valley fourth-graders belting out some patriotic songs and solemn messages meant to honor America’s veterans.

Even with no audience and sporting masks for safety, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, students joined forces with Lee Elementary music teacher Candace Gibson to give a recent presentation as a Veterans Day salute.

This time around the military salute done annually for years by the young students came a handful of weeks after the actual holiday because of the virus threat.

Split into two groups to provide for safe spacing, students seemed filled with the spirit of the program even though they couldn’t offer their message in person to a group of veterans who normally fill the school’s auditorium.

“It’s awesome,” said the students after one of the programs ended. “I love it because it’s awesome.”

“It is never too late to say thank you,” said the youngsters during the programs.

“Thank you veterans.”

As for Gibson, her own father’s service in the U.S. Marines and love of leading this annual program brought a determination to make it happen this year despite the virus pandemic.

“I don’t care that it’s a month after Veterans Day,” Gibson said. “Veterans always appreciate when someone honors their service, and that’s what this is.”

Just like in past years this group of fourth-grade students began preparing for the veterans program way back at the start of the new school year in August.

“We started working on this the second day of school. We started on parts of it and we haven’t stopped. I can’t tell you how many interruptions we’ve had with quarantines and students being out.”

Gibson said it’s amazing how excited each group of fourth-graders are when it comes to preparing for a program that honors the service of veterans.

“They love it,” she said. “A lot of them have dads, fathers or uncles who went to Afghanistan or the Korean War or served in some way.”

The two identical programs earlier in December each featured flag salutes, patriotic songs for each branch of the military and students stepping to a podium to read narratives aloud related to the service of those in America’s military since the country was formed.

There were narratives like the “great war – the war to end all wars” in a reference to World War I, and all the Americans from all over the U.S. “and even Pauls Valley” who found themselves right in the middle of World War II battles.

“I try to get across to them what patriotism is,” Gibson said.

“People have given their lives for patriotism and defending this county, so these kids should learn about that.”

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