WORDEN - "They're coming. They are coming!" children yelled as the Veterans Day parade progressed along Main Street.
The excited young voices were shushed a few times by the teachers who were attending to the elementary school kids that lined the street. The cadence of drums could be heard as the children quieted.
A reverent calm
The 35th annual Veterans Day parade, hosted by sixth-graders from Huntley Project Elementary, marched into a reverent calm.
After a moment of silence, the more than 300 children and sprinkling of adults softly started the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd's voice was unified by the time the children led it in an articulated "in-dee-vis-ee-ble with liberty and justice for all."
The parade was led by an honor guard that included members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the VFW Auxiliary from Worden, Billings and Custer. The silence intensified as the veterans prepared to give a three-volley salute. Many in the crowd jerked after the first shot, but a wave of nervous giggles burst out of a group of the youngest parade-goers.
The crowd dropped hands from over their hearts to applaud when sixth-grader Elijah Brown finished playing taps on his trumpet.
The parade resumed as the kids marching along, all dressed in red shirts, made up the bulk of the parade including 30 flag bearers, some with solemn faces and the flagpoles pressed to their noses.
They were followed by a horse-drawn wagon filled with children who tossed candy. Boy Scouts, the Worden ambulance and two firetrucks followed.
The Worden community's support for people in the military is displayed year-round by wide yellow ribbons that gird the 11 huge cottonwoods in the boulevard between Northern Avenue and Highway 312. But its school, Huntley Project, pulls out the stops for the annual parade.
The school's 42 sixth-graders and their two teachers, Jennifer Ryan and Maranda Sieler, spend months organizing the parade and program.
Fourth-grader Justin Knickerbocker stood at attention, back straight and hands at his sides, during the parade. He was dressed head to toe in camouflage.
"My cousin is in the military and going to be a mechanic," Justin said as he walked the two blocks back to school.
He said the parade was "pretty good."
"It's good here," he said.
Ray Krumheuer agreed. The infantry veteran served in Italy during World War II. Krumheuer, who lives in Ballantine, watched the parade with other gray-haired men, leaning on the back of a pickup truck.
"I think it's great, it's been a wonderful day for it," said Krumheuer, standing in the sunshine after the parade.
He tries to attend the parade each year and was impressed with the children.
"They behaved real nice," he said.
Korean War veteran Ron Ohlin enjoyed watching the children and said it is honorable to teach them about respect for the flag and veterans.
"It's a good idea to get them out there to see who some of the veterans in this area are," Ohlin said.
Huntley Project High School teacher Mark Wandle was among the veterans in the parade. He will retire from the National Guard with 20 years of service next year and was a little disappointed that his Class A uniform has already been turned in. Wandle wore the desert-colored camo he was issued while deployed to in Iraq from late 2003 through early 2005.
His rank as a first sergeant allows him to lead the honor guard, but he wouldn't think of usurping the older veterans.
"The veterans groups around here are just awesome," Wandle said, and added they will give presentations in the schools all week.
Back at the school, the sixth-graders performed patriotic songs and poems for about 200 family and community members who filled the gymnasium.
Elementary School Principal Brent Lipp said the Veterans Day events provide a chance for students to learn but, just as importantly, to develop a connection with those who have served in defense of country.
"As the students develop the program, they develop a connection to what it means to be a veteran," Lipp said.
Maria Burton brought the third generation of her family to the parade. Her granddaughter, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Berlyn, is about 18 months old. The toddler's dad was in the parade, and next year a cousin of hers will be old enough to participate, Burton said.
The parade is good for the youngest of the children, Burton said.
"It instills a sense of pride and respect and some thought about what freedom is all about," Burton said. "People fight for that freedom. While we're comfortable, they're not."