Don Graves was a Marine barely out of his teens in 1945 when he sat atop Mount Suribachi and watched the American flag being raised on the island of Iwo Jima. The moment was immortalized in iconic photos that still inspire.
"It was my battalion that put the flag up on Suribachi," said Graves, 86, of Keller. "I saw it. They were my buddies. None of us even thought about it. But when that flag went up, when the news spread, it seemed like everything went up on the island. The Navy sent up flares from the ships offshore."
Graves will get the chance to pass on his World War II memories to students from Grapevine-Colleyville schools during a unique districtwide project called World War II Freedom Flight 2011, aimed at bringing together students and veterans.
The crowning event will happen May 24, when 60 students and 60 veterans will take a daylong trip to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
A public Celebration of Freedom Night will kick off the month of activities from 6 to 8 tonight at Grapevine High School.
World War II-era jeeps and other vehicles will be parked outside, parachutists will touch down in the parking lot and bands will play patriotic songs.
Grapevine High School sophomore Baylee Asbill was the first student to earn a spot on the flight for her prize-winning Challenge Coin design, depicting the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima as a cooperative effort between soldiers and students.
"The entry guide said to design something that gives a special meaning, or something that helps you remember World War II," she said. "Oftentimes you see that memorial, and it very much signifies World War II. I progressed it into the students of today."
Asbill said she has visited Washington but has not seen the World War II memorial. She will tour the memorial with Graves.
Of tonight's celebration, school spokeswoman Megan Overman said, "It's going to be huge."
Recording artists Steve Emerson, Matt Snook and Coleen Cronin will perform, and a recent Medal of Honor recipient, retired Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, will be a special guest. A combined band of Grapevine and Colleyville Heritage high school students will also play.
Superintendent Robin Ryan will join members of the Army Golden Knights in the parachute jump at 6 p.m.
American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey will offer remarks.
Tonight's celebration, and the larger Freedom Flight program, are cooperative efforts among American Airlines, the Fort Worth Airpower Foundation and the Grapevine-Colleyville district. American Airlines is providing all the resources.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657