For the students of Denison’s B. McDaniel Middle School there is no danger of being drafted. Some have heard stories from family about a time when the country’s continuing freedom wasn’t certain, but those are just stories.

For the students of Denison’s B. McDaniel Middle School there is no danger of being drafted. Some have heard stories from family about a time when the country’s continuing freedom wasn’t certain, but those are just stories.


So when a line of students formed spontaneously in front of Navy veteran Siras Browning Monday after the annual Veterans Day event at B. McDaniel — a dozen bright-eyed kids looking to shake the 83-year-old man’s hand — the octogenarian seemed genuinely touched.


"This is the most beautiful group of students; they’re so respectful," he said, pressing palms as the middle schoolers worked their way through the procession, thanking him for his service.


When Browning was 16 — just a year older than many of those eighth graders — he was a full-fledged member of the United States Navy, serving aboard a destroyer in the first assignment of a service career that would stretch over three decades and as many wars.


"I (enlisted) about a month before I turned 17," said Browning. "I enjoyed the Navy. … Looking back, those were some of the happiest years of our lives."


Some were tough as well. Browning was aboard the battleship USS Ozbourn on Nov. 24, 1948, when it collided with the USS Theodore E. Chandler, killing two of Browning’s friends.


"We collided with one of our sister ship about 8 o’clock at night, and we lost about 50-feet of our bow," Browning said. "The saddest thing for me, … I helped (my division officer) pack their sea bags, to send their effects home."


Browning was one of nearly 70 veterans who gathered at the middle school for its yearly celebration Monday. The school took the time to honor each of the veterans individually, listing the branch, conflicts and achievements for each attendee.


After that portion of the program was complete, the assembly honored local veterans who died during the last year, taking extra time to recognize a loss that hit especially close to home.


Fred E. Stith, a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War, died in April of this year. After his military career, Mr. Stith worked as a volunteer mentor and tutor in Denison schools. Program officials at one point asked all students who had worked with Mr. Stith to stand up, and gasps were audible in the auditorium as nearly half the room rose to its feet.


"Fred — or Mr. Fred, as we knew him in Denison — is survived by hundreds, even thousands of students, parents, educators and members of this community," said Terrell Elementary Principal David Kirkbride. "He (helped around the school) without being asked; he did it for nearly 20 years; and he did it all for free. … Literally the last thing he said to me the last time I saw him was, ‘Please tell the teachers they are my heroes.’"


The gathered students and veterans received keynote remarks from retired special forces solider Jason Morgan, who became paralyzed from the waist down during an anti-narcotics mission in South America. Morgan went through his biography in detail, emphasizing for the students that the loss of his legs was symbolic of the sacrifice each veteran makes, be it in time, family life or physical injury. The student body gave him a pair of standing ovations to bookend his speech.


After the program concluded, Browning was asked whether he’ll be attending again next year. "I wouldn’t miss it," he said. "I wish all schools would do this. It’s such an honor for us to come."