Attendees heard the Wilson chorus and band perform the national anthem, along with other patriotic songs, and watched videos about military service, including a tribute to Nick Steinbacher, a La Crescenta resident who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2006.
The ceremony, a week before the school’s observance of Veterans Day, was meant to provide time for students to reflect on the contributions that veterans and those serving in the military have made to the country, said Pete Regli, assembly producer and Wilson computer teacher.
Steinbacher’s father, Paul Steinbacher, said he hoped his presence and that of his wife, Carolyn, would make the risks and rewards of military service more real to the students.
“Having these honored veterans [here], and the sacrifice that Nick made, it hopefully brings reality to the fact that freedom isn’t free — [but] it’s worth fighting for,” Paul Steinbacher said.
Students were especially affected by Zamperini’s story.
Zamperini competed in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin before going on to serve as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator in the Pacific. His plane was shot down over open water, and he survived 47 days on a lifeboat, as well as two years as a prisoner of war.
John Naber, Zamperini’s friend and an Olympian from the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, retold a story about Zamperini to a fascinated audience, explaining that while he was floating on a life raft, he spotted a plane and signaled to it with a mirror, only to discover that it was a Japanese aircraft. The enemy plane then flew toward the raft and opened fire, Naber said.
The school also recognized Vietnam veterans Mark Osterloh and Don Bilsky.