For Veterans Day, a lesson about service and gratitude

Bob Williams, a 98-year-old World War II veteran and Menlo Park resident, addresses an assembly of middle schoolers at Menlo School on Nov. 6 in a presentation recognizing Veterans Day, celebrated on Monday, Nov. 11. (Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac)

Bob Williams of Menlo Park clearly recalls "a special boyhood thrill" that profoundly moved him and inspired him into adulthood and to this day: meeting and shaking hands with a U.S. military veteran. A veteran, mind you, of the American Civil War.

Williams, a retired international life insurance executive who around Veterans Day every year offers to share with today's young people "The story of a little boy and his love of the American flag," is 98 years old.

More than 200 Menlo School students heard Williams' story during a Nov. 6 assembly at the school, where they were given small flags and, after the presentation, lined up to shake the World War II veteran's hand.

In a prepared speech that he shared in writing with The Almanac, Williams explained to the assembled students that Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, and celebrates the end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

He recalled attending Armistice Day celebrations in the 1920s in Sausalito, where he was raised, with his father, a World War 1 veteran.

Barely out of his teens, Williams was in the United States Naval Academy when the U.S. became involved in World War II. As a Naval Academy midshipman, he held the highest appointive rank, brigade commander, and the highest elective office, class president, he said in a prepared biography.

Graduation from the academy was accelerated by one year because of the war, and as a shipboard officer he fought in four Western Pacific campaigns, according to his biography.

In addition to explaining what the American flag represents to him, Williams emphasized in his talk to the students the value of developing a habit of gratitude in their daily lives — a lesson he learned, he said, during nearly a century of living. He encouraged the students to be thankful for the people in their everyday lives, and to express their gratitude in speech and in writing to everyone from their parents and teachers to their bus driver.

The day after the event, Liz Bongiorno of Menlo School, who helped organize the assembly, wrote in an email to the guest speaker: "The students and faculty are still talking about your visit! What an impact you made on these students. Thank you for your time, and most of all, your service. I think everyone will look at our flag with a new light whenever we see it."


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2 people like this
Posted by M.ark R . Checchi
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 14, 2019 at 3:32 pm

What an Incredible lesson/message to us all- Thank you Bob Williams for your very powerful act of Kindness, which is sometime overlooked in our busy lives....M

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