Rancho Vista Elementary salutes the troops

25 active duty service men and 10 veterans visited Rancho Vista Elementary Friday to share the importance of Memorial Day with students.

Students led the troops in the Pledge of Allegiance.

PALMDALE – Service men and women paid a special visit to Rancho Vista Elementary Friday to share the true meaning of Memorial Day.

“To talk to our students about what it means to serve for one’s country and the importance of education in their lives,” said Principal Tom Morreale.I want my students to understand that it’s not just a day off of school. It’s a day where we remember the sacrifices of our veterans and our active duty service men.”

The visit began with a brief Memorial Day ceremony on the school’s playground.

All 800 students came out to greet the troops.

The students recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and then 4th grader Ruth Derrick sang a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

4th grader Ruth Derrick sang America the Beautiful.

After the ceremony, about 25 active duty service men and 10 veterans were ushered to different classrooms to speak to the students about the importance of Memorial Day and what it’s like to be in the military.

Major Neil Wheldon, a special agent with the United States Air Force, spoke to 28 students in his daughter’s second grade class.

“Does anybody in here want to grow up and be in the military?” Wheldon asked the class. Nearly every hand in the classroom went up.

Students grilled Wheldon on everything from what his badges mean to what he eats every day.

“It was more interaction that I expected,” Wheldon said afterward. “They’re pretty sharp.”

His appearance also received the stamp of approval from his daughter, Claire Wheldon.

“I thought it was cool because he came up to the front and he talked to us in his uniform,” Claire said.

Major Neil Wheldon spoke to his daughter's second grade class.

Wheldon said Memorial Day was a time for him to remember his friends killed in combat.

“I’ve had several friends die, several folks close to me who were killed in action,” Wheldon said. “So it makes it a little closer to home when you can come back and reflect on that.”

Principal Morreale said Friday’s event was a first for the school, but he said it will be an annual tradition going forward.

“I’m very proud to be an American and I know these students are as well,” Morreale said. “It’s important for us to understand that these guys are out there fighting for our freedoms every day making sure our country stays safe.”