MacArthur High School on Aldine Mail Route Road in East Aldine opened in 1965 and was named in memory of Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. Army General who died a year earlier.

Post 548 of the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, sits on the same street. And typical of working-class neighborhoods across the nation, East Aldine has a significant share of residents who served in the U.S. military.

So it was fitting that an annual honoring of veterans also took place recently on Aldine Mail Route Road at the East Aldine Town Center.

A highlight of the Veterans Day celebration was the unfurling of a giant American flag on the concert lawn as a drone was used to capture photos of volunteers who held on tight to make it wave.

The veterans and dozens of their family members laughed with delight in the cool autumn breeze in a joyful celebration of patriotism and remembrance.

“Veterans’ Day is special for veterans, but it is also a special day for veterans’ families,” said Robert Mora, commander of the American Legion post. “We have to give thanks to the families, because when a veteran comes home, they have to adapt and get used to living as a civilian again.”

“Sometimes, it’s kind of like a pro athlete. They play the game and when they stop, they have to try to come back to reality again,” Mora said.

Dozens of vendors, from government agencies to veteran entrepreneurs, offered informative packets, tiny flags, red-white-and-blue trinkets and leftover Halloween candy. A brass band played as a touching slideshow displayed images of dozens of East Aldine area veterans from World War II to Vietnam.

Mora reminded the community of a famous quote from Gen. MacArthur:

“Douglas MacArthur once said the soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. Now, we do pray for peace every day, but sometimes we have to face the fact that in this unstable world, there is war.”

Mora is an Air Force veteran and a graduate of MacArthur High School.

Post 548 hosted a special breakfast for veterans on Veterans’ Day. The organization is active in holding charity fundraisers, but one of its most special roles is hosting funeral celebrations for the families of deceased area veterans, Mora said.

Many veterans in East Aldine are “a little bit older,” said Mora, 62. “For some reason, the younger veterans seem to be living a little bit further away.”

But still, he said, “we are a very active post.”

Many older veterans served during the Vietnam War, and they posed for a special group photograph before being awarded pins by state Sen. Carol Alvarado.

Vietnam War veteran Dr. Elias Sanchez Perez,used his role as keynote speaker to urge families to encourage their children to pursue careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

Sanchez Perez, president of A Gathering of Eagles, which represents a variety of veterans’ organizations, worked as an engineer at NASA for several years. He now teaches at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

“At NASA, I learned technology, science and engineering are very important topics, especially for youth,” he said. “You who have children growing up, you need to help me push science and technology into our youth. The jobs of tomorrow are in science, technology and engineering.”

Sanchez Perez worked closely with six Latino astronauts, who decided to hold summer symposiums for youth to encourage them to pursue STEM careers.

He cited the example of retired NASA astronaut Jaime Hernandez, who applied a dozen times before being accepted into the astronaut corps. Sanchez Perez recalled that before pursuing his education, Hernandez was “a migrant fieldworker” with his family in California.

 “I just want to emphasize to you how important it is to get education in those fields,” Sanchez Perez said.

Other participants in the event included the Hambrick Middle School Boys’ Choir. Melanie Garcia, a student at Hambrick, received an award for her poem about Veterans Day.

Participants in the Vet Fest included the Harris County Veterans Services Department, BakerRipley’s Veterans Assistance office, the city of Houston, and Lone Star Legal Aid’s Military and Veterans Unit.

Sen. Carol Alvarado, center, with veterans

— by Anne Marie Kilday