In the Huntington Elementary School cafeteria adorned with red, white and blue tablecloths and American eagle centerpieces Friday, Tyler Kronhofman is having lunch with his nephew, Micah.
Well, Micah Kronhofman, the second-grader with blueberry stains on his mouth and a largely untouched glob of macaroni and cheese on his tray, is having lunch.
Tyler isn’t really hungry, so he’s sitting in his fatigues with Micah and his friends at the round lunch table, his arms crossed.
In a matter of hours, the technical sergeant in the Nebraska Air National Guard will be on his way to Afghanistan, a deployment that will keep him maintaining aircraft in the Middle East over the holidays.
But first, he came to the northeast Lincoln school.
To observe Veterans Day, the school opens its doors to the family members of Huntington students who have served — or are still serving — in the military.
Students spend the week doing veterans-related activities. Fourth-graders performed patriotic songs at a concert. Students drew pictures of American eagles and flags and stars in their art classes, then taped their work to the hallway walls and columns. They made cards thanking the veterans.
Huntington administrators have been organizing similar Veterans Day activities for about seven years, and while each year is different, the week always culminates with the lunch, said Principal Rik Devney.
It’s why Rusty Frazier — who surprised first-grader Courtney Hummel at school a few days ago with his return from an eight-month deployment in Syria a month earlier than expected — is having lunch with that same granddaughter Friday.
It brought Melvin Parke, who served in the Navy from 1960-64, and Rey Arizola, who served in the Nebraska Air National Guard from 1992-1998, to the cafeteria to share a table with their kids and grandkids, talking about their days in the service, answering questions.
And the kids ask lots of questions, said Arizola.
Were you scared? Were the planes loud? Were the bombs loud?
“It’s our way of honoring veterans,” Devney said, and a way for students to learn the stories of their own family members.
Third-grader Natalya Wess’ story includes a grandpa who had a career in the military, and who inspired his son, Charles Wess, to do the same.
Charles Wess was born in the Philippines and spent many of his formative years in Germany while his dad served and earned his doctorate in the process. He's known he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps since he was 4.
“I saw my dad wear that uniform and it looked so cool,” he said. “That was the goal from Day One.”
He served eight years in the Air Force and, while he was stationed in England, served all over Europe, in Iraq and in Lithuania, while he worked for NATO, he said.
Friday, Uncle Charles brought Natayla lunch from Dairy Queen and would not have missed lunch with his niece.
“It’s great they recognize the veterans," he said. "Some kids don’t know what a veteran is. It’s more than what they see in video games. It kind of puts a face to the noise.”
Kronhofman, who joined the Nebraska Army National Guard in 2002 and took a full-time position with the Air National Guard in 2007, feels much the same way: that being here lets students see the military in a positive light, shows them there’s more to service than shooting guns.
That’s why he's come to eat lunch with Micah in previous years, though Friday he was there for another reason, too.
“It’s just so I could see him one last time.”