Eight-year-old Jaida Waller wanted to surprise her Marine father Friday at Mark Twain Elementary's sixth annual Veterans Day Celebration.

And did she ever succeed!

Ever see a battle-hardened Marine tear up?

That's exactly what Joseph Waller did when his daughter walked to the podium after Robin Norris, mistress of ceremonies, announced Jaida as winner of the best essay on veterans at the 663-student K-5 school at 5021 E. Centralia St. in Long Beach.

In a proud voice, Jaida, a student in Mrs. Olsen's third-grade class, read her essay:

"His name is Joseph and it has a meaning. He stands out like a bright color in the evening sky. He made it through one of the toughest wars. He is a Marine and a great man.

"He fought for our lives and God spared his for me. He fought for freedom and is the best thing that happened to me.

"He is my dad and I love him so. Thank you, Dad, and to all the other veterans that served and fought for us, thank you."

Jaida's father wasn't the only one in the audience whose eyes were glistening.

After she finished reading her essay, Jaida got a huge bear hug from her dad.

Her father was a Marine corporal who served in Iraq from 1989 to 2001.

In a firefight in 1990 he suffered neck wounds from a shrapnel shell attack.

He said he was totally surprised by his daughter's essay.

"I really appreciate her genuineness and love," he said. "She gives me a sense of purpose.


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Jaida's mother said Jaida wrote the essay entirely by herself and wouldn't let her see it until it was done.

Individual classes sang a song from each service. Kindergartners sang the Air Force song complete with hands in the air simulating flying planes. First- and second-graders sang "Anchors Aweigh." Third-graders sang the Marine Hymn. Fourth-graders sang the Army song, and fifth-graders sang the Coast Guard song.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Ryan Manning gave the keynote speech and told students to honor not only veterans but also their families who support them.

Diane Craighead, a member of the Long Beach Unified School District Board, recognized Amanda Berman for winning the program cover art contest with a drawing of a stern eagle placed over the American flag. Honorable mentions went to Jasmine Camacho, Abigail Haun, Christopher McQuillin and Tony Cueva.

Ellen Ryan, Twain principal and a member of the 2013 Leadership Long Beach class, entertained the students with Bobo, a small stuffed lion, who she held in her arms.

Kids squealed when Bobo told them to remember veterans when the students were sleeping in on Monday, a school holiday. Bobo called veterans "our beautiful heroes."

Everyone, kids and adults, applauded loudly.


rich.archbold@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1285, twitter.com/richarchbold1