GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - When it comes to paying tribute to coast military veterans, few do it better than the students at Gautier High School. What began 14 years ago as a small event is now a huge outpouring of respect and honor for the men and women who have served their country.
The vets came by the dozens, more than 300 strong. They were first treated to a breakfast fit for a king, then treated to a tribute.
Entering the gym, there was a snappy student led salute, a show of respect. And then a heartfelt chant of "USA, USA!"
Why do the students do this?
"Just to show our respect," Daniel Smith said. "Because they gave their lives for us, a lot of them and they come out every year and show their respect and we show it back."
The veterans are touched. Larry Soper served in the Marines.
"When we go to the auditorium, it almost brings tears to your eyes," Soper said. "It makes you feel good inside, makes you think that somebody really cares about us."
"It means a whole lot," said Eva Montalbano. "It means they know their history and they just seem to respect the veterans and I think that's great."
"It means a lot to me getting our recognition for coming back from Vietnam and I really enjoy it and have a good time. I've been coming here for about 14 years," said Melvin Lett.
The founder of this event is Gautier High School teacher Susie Bounds. When it all started 14 years ago, she never envisioned it becoming this big. As for why she started this program, the answer was easy.
"As a history teacher, I would ask veterans to come to my classes and I can see how much it meant to the veterans to be able to share their experiences and how much the students enjoyed learning from them," Bounds explained.
The vets enjoy it right back. The students make sure of that.
Gail Amonell is the widow of a veteran. "They do bring a special energy to the event and they make you feel welcome, they make you feel special. It's a wonderful event for veterans."
An event they truly deserve.
As part of Monday's program, a student was honored with the first ever "Heart for Veterans" memorial award. It's named in honor of William Ralston Lecky III, a veteran and the father of program founder Susie Bounds. He passed away earlier this year.