Frank Viola struggled to put into words how he felt on the second Veterans Day without his son Alex, a 2002 Keller High grad who was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 17, 2013.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Frank Viola said as he looked around the Keller High Fine Arts Center as students found their seats. “It’s actually an honor to be Alex’s dad. We’ve been overwhelmed by all the support and truly grateful and humbled by the whole experience we’ve had in the last two years.”
Alex Viola, a Green Beret and Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, was remembered in tributes at Keller High School and Keller Middle School.
At Keller High, U.S. Air Force Col. Bryan Bartels told students the history behind Veterans Day and talked about the oath soldiers take to uphold the constitution. When he asked students how many of them had a family member who had served in the armed forces, hundreds of hands in the audience went up.
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As the KHS choir sang a medley of armed forces themes, students who were related to veterans or active duty soldiers stood up during the song for their loved one’s branch of the military.
The longest and loudest applause went to the recognition of Alex Viola’s family who attended: Frank, his mom Peggy Viola and grandmother Ann Popp.
Freedom isn’t free. Joshua knew that and stepped forward to pay the price.
Carol Gilbertson, teacher at Keller Middle School, about former student who died in Iraq.
At Keller Middle School, Alex Viola was remembered by his eighth-grade English teacher Kris Heffner, who said, “I will always remember his smile and his eagerness to learn.”
Other former KMS students also were honored.
Carol Gilbertson, eighth-grade U.S. History teacher, talked about her former student U.S. Army Cpl. William Joshua Rechenmacher who died in Iraq in 2007.
Although he moved to Florida during high school, she remembers how he came back to Keller Middle School during basic training at Fort Hood to tell her he was serving his country. Now his picture has a place on her wall of honor next to the American flag.
Gilbertson said, “Freedom isn’t free. Joshua knew that and stepped forward to pay the price.”
The KMS event was part of History Channel’s “Take a Veteran to School Day” sponsored by Charter Communications. Texas Rep. Giovanni Capriglione spoke briefly to students about how veterans “deserve our utmost and sincere respect today and every day.”
The keynote speaker was Retired Army Sgt. Joe Washam, a 1998 Keller High grad and Purple Heart recipient. Washam spent 20 months in an Army hospital after receiving third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body in a Bagdad explosion on April 26, 2004.
Hopefully, it will encourage some of them to go into the military, too.
Ret. U.S. Army Cpl. Joe Washam
He told students how much it meant for him to see friends from Keller during his long hospital recovery.
“Every month I had friends coming to see me from Keller,” Washam said.
He told students, “It’s important to be nice to each other, to take care of each other, and when hardships happen, you’ll have the support of your community.”
Washam encouraged those who had veterans or active duty soldiers in their families to thank them on Veterans Day, either in person or on the phone.
After the event, Washam said he wanted to talk to the students because he was proud of his service to his country.
“Hopefully, it will encourage some of them to go into the military, too,” he said.
The First Annual Staff Sgt Alex Viola Memorial Car Show will be 2 to 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Pkwy., Keller. Proceeds benefit the Green Beret Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Cars on display will include Alex Viola’s prized ‘68 Chevy Super Sport. ssgalexviola.com