The six Paonia High School students who shared lunch with Vietnam veteran Joe Kaputa on Veterans Day paid close attention as the former Marine told of how he enlisted, his tours, and about spending time on the island of Okinawa. Much like the USO, said Kaputa, Okinawa was a place where members of the military could go and relax.
When Kaputa realized the five students at his table were football and volleyball players heading into state playoffs, he told them he was honored.
Kaputa was one of three veterans who dined with students on Veterans Day. All three are members of the American Legion Wilson Head Post 97 in Paonia.
Dave Hiney served in the Marines as an electrician for three years, and twice was headed for Vietnam. Both tours were canceled, including the first tour after he broke his leg and was sent to Okinawa for 13 months. He told students that joining the military is a good option these days. "It teaches you self-discipline, self-confidence, and teamwork," said Hiney.
Lonnie Trujillo, a 1982 graduate of PHS and the son of PHS graduates, served 11 tours of duty in his 26 years as a munitions systems expert in the U.S. Army, and is a retired master sergeant. He has served as commander at the American Legion the past four years. After giving a brief synopsis of his 26 years, he shouted "Go Eagles!"
Kaputa also reminded students that the national holiday that is Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, marking the signing of the armistice to end World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 o'clock.
PHS recognizes Veterans Day every year, said science teacher Tracy Campbell. World War II veteran Norm Shetley is often invited to speak, and this year, all area veterans were invited to join students for lunch.
Following lunch, the veterans visited their fellow veterans at Paonia Care & Rehabilitation. The local American Legion Auxiliary hosted the legion's annual dinner last Friday.
Trujillo said the legion provides food boxes on Thanksgiving and holds a toy drive and food box event for Christmas. The legion also awards annual scholarships, and in 2014 awarded 12 scholarships to area students. The legion also sponsors Boys State and the Legion Auxiliary sponsors Girls State, which gives students going into their senior year an opportunity to experience firsthand how government works by actively participating with other students from across the state in creation of a mock government, the writing of laws and election of officials.