The culinary arts students prepared a meal for the military veterans to thank them for their service.  Some of the veterans were family members of the students.

The culinary arts students prepared a meal for the military veterans to thank them for their service. Some of the veterans were family members of the students.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Student, staff pay tribute to local veterans

By: Maria Allard | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 3, 2023

Featured Gallery (Click to view)


STERLING HEIGHTS — When Warren Consolidated Schools Career Prep Center metal technology paraprofessional Joey Shumar played taps on the trumpet, it was a solemn reminder of the sacrifices of our U.S. military veterans.

“My father and half of my relatives have served,” Shumar said. “I am thankful for what the veterans have done for us.”

Shumar was among the staff and students who gathered with local veterans around the school’s outdoor flagpole Nov. 2 for the Career Prep Center’s 18th annual Veterans Day celebration. Veterans Day, held annually Nov. 11, is a federal holiday in the U.S. observed to honor veterans of the armed forces.

The event began with a flag raising ceremony. Cadet Master Sgt. Genevieve Jones, a junior, and her sister, Cadet Senior Airman Camryn Jones, a sophomore, presented an American flag to members of the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post No. 169 Honor Guard, who then raised Old Glory.

The Joneses — whose grandfather was present — are in the school’s Civil Air Patrol detachment, which is an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. Patriotic music then filled the air when “The Star-Spangled Banner” played from junior Firas Khaldi on trumpet and senior Sama Khalid on snare drum.

After a moment of silence, Career Prep Center computer programming teacher David LeDuc took to the podium to pay homage to the several U.S. veterans who saved him as a toddler while in a Vietnamese orphanage. LeDuc was born “sometime in 1973,” during the Vietnam War, and placed in the orphanage as an infant. David LeDuc is his adoptive name, but his birth name is Le Den Tuan.

“My biological mom was probably a young woman who could not keep me safe during wartime,” LeDuc said. “Most surrounding villages around Saigon were decimated or destroyed.”

While conducting genetics testing through 23andMe, LeDuc discovered he is 50% Chinese on his biological father’s side and 50% southeast Asian on his biological mother’s side.

“That probably made my biological dad a Chinese soldier helping North Vietnam,” he reflected. “Regardless of my genetic makeup, all the children in the orphanages in Saigon were at high risk.”

During his speech, LeDuc said that in early 1975, the U.S. and several other Western countries started a rescue mission called Operation Babylift.

“This controversial operation involved removing babies, infants, toddlers and young children from their home country of Vietnam and placing them with families in North America, Europe, and Australia,” he said. “Throughout April 1975, 3,000 children were rescued through Operation Babylift. Unfortunately, on the third day of Operation Babylift, one of the planes full of children and adults rescuing them crashed with very few survivors. Despite the tragedy, the operation continued throughout April. The last planes full of children left Saigon on April 27. I was on one of those planes.”

The young child arrived in America in the early morning hours of April 28, 1975, just two days before South Vietnam fell to communism.

“From the reports I have read, those children left in my orphanage and other orphanages were relocated to nearby villages, hoping to be spared. Unfortunately, most were not,” he said.

Although he wasn’t in good physical shape at the time and had issues with his lungs, LeDuc credits his adoptive parents and Western medicine for restoring his health.

So what does Veterans Day mean to LeDuc?

“Everything. I would not be here without the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to rescue as many children as they could from orphanages. They are the ones that got me here and allowed me to start living the American Dream. Without them, I know my chances of survival in Vietnam were very low,” he said.

“Veterans Day is a day to thank the military men and women who served America. Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the many blessings and opportunities that America has afforded us,” LeDuc said. “Students, I ask you never to pass up the chance to say ‘thank you’ to those who serve. Do this whenever you can, not just on Veterans Day.”

LeDuc and his wife have seven children. LeDuc has been at the Career Prep Center for two years. Prior to that, he taught middle school social studies, and social studies in the Waterford School District.

“One of my goals was to show my students what a remarkable country America is,” he said. “I accomplished this by teaching American history and telling students how I was rescued from Vietnam, became a citizen, and have lived the American Dream many times.”

Career Prep Center Principal Carlie McClenathan also shared her thoughts with the crowd.

“Thank you to all of our special guests here today,” she said. “We’re appreciative of your service to our country and honored that you could join us today.”

After the ceremony, everyone went inside for a buffet prepared by the culinary arts students. The meal included a French toast bake, scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, fruit, beverages and omelets.

The Career Prep Center offers various courses, including culinary arts, engineering and graphic arts. The classes are in two-hour blocks, and students return to their home school for their other classes.