PEORIA (HOI) - Every Thursday morning starts the same in Tremont Grade School.
The veterans are there bright and early to welcome the students into school. This is the veterans fourth year of this tradition.
"Oh gosh, it makes their day. There are kids that jump out of bed and tell their parents it's Thursday," Principal Becky Hansen said.
This week, the group of nearly 20 veterans made it happen on Wednesday, to be there for the students last day of school.
"The oath we took when we joined the military, we look at as a forever oath, it doesn't go away. We're always called to serve and this is one way we're able to do that," Rick Otey said.
Rick Otey is a Vietnam veteran. He says his wife used to be an aide at Tremont Grade School. She had shared with him, the football team had greeted the elementary students before school one Friday. Otey thought the veterans could do the same thing. He presented the idea to the school, and Principal Hansen says it was an offer they couldn't resist.
"Of course. We're going to do everything we can to get the kids interacting with the veterans and learning their experiences," Hansen said.
And Otey says this simple act has a special meaning.
"It really does something for us. It's good therapy really for us to come and see the world has changed and they're more accepting of what we did for our country," Otey said.
Despite only being in school 172 days this year due to COVID, the heroes were still there every Thursday morning.
"They've become our family. They're just part of our day and every thursday we're just excited because they've done so much and they continue to do so much for us," Hansen said.
The veterans say they are already looking forward to next year. As COVID guidelines continue to change, they're hoping there are fewer masks come fall, so they're able to see students smiles once again.