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Arbuckle students make pledge of peace; fallen GI honored
Donna Casillas and her family sat in the back row in the multipurpose room and watched as 500 Arbuckle Elementary School students honored her son and made a pledge to be peacemakers on Friday morning.
The pledge was made during a moment of silence.
"Think about being a peacemaker," Principal Carol Geyer told the gathering, which also included the school staff and a number of people from the community and from the military.
Different classes at the school wore red, white and blue shirts.
"This is an exciting day. This is a day you have been waited for and prepared for for several weeks," Geyer said. "And it is wonderful to look out and see all the red, while and blue and all the patriotism you are showing."
The day included the students singing a song about peace, watching a color guard presentation and recital of "I am the Flag," by eight members of the Pierce High FFA program.
Important symbols of what the students do to be peacemakers in their everyday lives at school also were placed on a tree-like structure, topped with a stuffed mascot of the school — a bulldog.
The symbol of the greater effort is a Peace Pole, which was unveiled with a burst of smoke as the cover was lif ed off during the ceremony.
It was then placed in a permanent location along a well-traveled walkway on the campus. Flowers are going to be planted in the area by the students as well.
"I think it was very nice," Donna Casillas said.
She had been approached about the idea by Gloria Estrada at a recent Gold Star Moms event in San Francisco.
The two women share a tragic bond as each lost a son in Afghanistan.
Casillas' son, Justin, 19, died July 4, 2009, while trying to save a friend under machine gun fire.
"It's a day-to-day struggle," Casillas said. "We just want to keep his memory alive, and support all the troops."
The community honored him with a plaque at the base of the flagpole at the Veterans Memorial Park in November 2009, and received on his behalf the Silver Star for his bravery in a ceremony held in June 2010.
"The Silver Star ... is a celebration of Justin's gallantry," Capt. Bryce Kawaguchi, Casillas' commanding officer, said during the ceremony, describing Casillas as a man that "all soldiers should seek to emulate."
Justin Casillas grew up in Arbuckle, graduating from Pierce High in 2008.
"From the time he was little, he was going to be in the service," his mother said Friday.
Estrada's son, Rueben "Boy" Lopez, died Aug. 11, 2011, when a roadside explosive detonated. Three others died in the explosion.
Estrada had a Peace Pole erected at Williams Elementary School last November.
He son attended the local schools and graduated from Williams High. He was 27 when he was killed.
Just like that service, National Guard Capt. Renee Marie also helped lead the ceremony at Arbuckle Elementary.
She would like to see them standing at schools throughout the state.
"I have wanted to do a Peace Pole at every campus in the state since Sept. 11, 2001," Marie said.
She said at one ceremony, a young student walked up to her during her talk.
"Because of you, I will never bully (anyone) again," said Marie, retelling the moment. "That is why I do this work."
There are more than 275,000 poles around the world. The idea started in Japan after World War II.
The inscription on the pole, written in different languages, reads "May Peace Prevail on Earth."
The languages the Casillas family chose were English, Spanish, Hebrew and Italian.
Estrada's pole is in English, Spanish, Punjabi and Japanese.