GCU cadets march with veterans who made history

The GCU Army ROTC Honor Guard leads the procession during the Veterans Day parade at Paradise Peak West retirement community Thursday.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

Viviana Mora could feel her lip tremble. She is 19 and was in uniform as an Army ROTC Color Guard commander Thursday. Behind her, the community room on Veterans Day was filled with family and soldiers of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, many of the 47 military veterans who live in the northeast Phoenix retirement community of Paradise Peak West.

Ninety-nine year old World War II Army veteran Ginny Davis meets with GCU Army ROTC cadets Viviana Mora, right, and Emma Fisher after the parade.

They held a salute to the flag with wrinkled hands and gnarled knuckles, some with visible shakes. The audio didn’t work, so they sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” a cappella.

“I’m thinking that these are the people who built our country,” said Mora, a Grand Canyon University sophomore.

Her lip trembled, but she stood erect.

We’ve had hard times recently, she continued, but these are the people who had hard times.

So after the parade of veterans snaked through every street of the community (here's a slideshow), past every one of the more than 400 single-story manufactured homes, past the folks on the street waving little American flags and golf carts carrying clubs and flags, Mora approached Ginny Davis, age 99.

Davis donned the same uniform she wore in World War II, when wounded veterans came from the battlefield, all torn up inside and out, and she asked them where it hurt most.

Residents and onlookers wave flags as they watch the parade.

She’s one of a dying generation of World War II veterans and even smaller group of women. It was an honor for the eight GCU ROTC cadets to walk in the parade, but even more to meet them.

Mora leaned down to the slight but healthy Davis to hear her stories of climbing a pyramid in Egypt while in the military. Enjoy every minute, she told the cadet.

And live a long life free of medications, aches or pains with five ounces of red wine and a square of pure dark chocolate every night, wink-wink. “I don’t have even have an aspirin in my house,” she said.

The days of war more than 75 years ago are not as much fun to talk about but as clear. “The men who came in were a mess,” she said. “I didn’t clean them up, I asked them questions.”

The GCU cadets stared with longing at their cupcakes adorned with tiny American flags on toothpicks but instead circled the room to talk with veterans, who stuck out their hands to thank them for their service.

GCU Army ROTC cadets Matthew Greymont, left, and Michael Salgado carry a World War II rememberance banner during the parade.

To student and ROTC cadet Michael Salgado, it was inspiring, the camaderie of service men and women separated by some four generations, showing each other respect.

“It gives me a sense of the pride I will try to uphold,” he said.

The community is owned by Joni Hegel, who was in a car near the parade’s start. She was happy to see the GCU cadets. She has long supported GCU, she said, and at one time a residence hall on campus carried her family name.

The retirees here looked on the fresh-faced cadets with nostalgia, some pointing to old uniforms they dug out of the closet, a bit paler and heavier than those of the students.

In the past couple of months, two of their veterans in the community have died, and the rest continue to count their blessings.

Pete Peterson was shot at plenty in World War II, first on a convoy of 100 ships to Europe, a long line to the horizon that he can still see in his mind’s eye, and then in the Korean War. He is 96.

Ginny Davis and Pete Peterson still have vivid wartime memories even though they're both in their upper 90s.

“I enlisted at 17 in 1942,” he said, remembering his times in the Navy that followed, one war into another.

“I was on a destroyer, just waiting to get shot at. My ship was harder hit closer to Korea. They punched some holes in us,” he said.

Veterans Day, he said, brings grief, “for those I knew who couldn’t celebrate it, and at my age there are quite a few. My dad was in World War I, and before him I had family in the Civil War and two in the American Revolution.”

That sense of history – so long past it’s in early chapters of students’ history books on the evolution of America – was not lost when it sat before them.

“It was just interesting to hear their advice. I could relate to my own experience but in a new time. They’ve just been though a lot, and I am still in college,” said student John Franke.

GCU Army ROTC cadets, from left, Tristen Martin, John Franke and Ruben Ruiz meet with veteran Joe Alesia.

The cadets folded the flag, finished circling the tables and after everyone had eaten, finally began to devour ham sandwiches. Extra cupcakes were brought to their table and quickly disappeared.

The stories they consumed on Veterans Day will not.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU student honors brother at ROTC 9/11 event

GCU Today: GCU ROTC commissions 11 to second lieutenants

GCU Today: ROTC cadets give the gift of service this winter


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