By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Walter Saunders shuffles the stack of black and white photos, then slips one across the table.

“What do you guys want to know? I brought some photos,” he says.

Hayden Owen takes the photo, momentarily at a loss for words.

“We liberated this joint too. That’s Dachau,” Saunders says, pointing to the photographs of one of the Nazis’ infamous concentration camps where the Holocaust was carried out.

At a nearby table, Hal Huntington encouraged students to check out ROTC when they get to college, and explained the benefits veterans receive after their service has ended.

Saunders, Huntington and about 30 other veterans were honored during a Veterans Celebration Day at Baker High School on Thursday.

BHS sent 780 invitations to veterans in Baker County, said Joy Leamaster, BHS librarian.

Veterans arrived at 8:30 a.m. and entered the school through an avenue of American flags. Each visitor was paired with a high school student for the day.

Three different sessions were held in the library, where social science classes came in during the period to sit and visit with veterans.

Midmorning, all students, staff and visitors gathered in the gymnasium for a special assembly that began with the color guard presenting the American and Oregon flags, and a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by the BHS choir.

Principal Greg Mitchell welcomed everyone in attendance, and expressed the importance of honoring those who have served.

“Men and women like those seated before you have sacrificed to keep this nation free,” he said.

Superintendent Mark Witty also spoke.

“You deserve the greatest respect we can give you,” he told the veterans.

The assembly’s keynote speaker was Capt. Chris Campbell of the National Guard, who has been in the service for 17 years.

“To appreciate a veteran, one must appreciate our great nation,” he said.

The reasons people join the military are as varied as the soldiers themselves, he said, but there is one common theme: “to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Campbell encouraged the audience to look at history to see the various receptions given to war veterans.

“Unfortunately, there were times veterans were not honored as they should have been,” he said. “A simple ‘thank you for your service’ goes a long way. You never know who in your community served just by looking at them. Talk to them, get to know them — make sure their sacrifices were not in vain.”

Campbell also talked about the importance of service, whether that is to join the military or to volunteer in your hometown.

“Serve in whatever way makes sense to you, but just serve,” he said. “Every one of you has the ability to serve. Please do so.”

The assembly closed with songs performed by the BHS band and choir, then students returned to classes and the veterans made their way back to the library.

See more in the May 11, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.