Iraqi War veteran Tammy Duckworth began this Veterans Day in the warm embrace of the students and staff at and .
Duckworth joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps as a graduate student at George Washington University, and was called to active duty in Iraq in 2004. She continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Duckworth, who in many ways has become the face of the American veteran, had a story to tell the students at York, her first stop at 8 a.m. (See accompanying video.)
She recalled for the thousands in the York gymnasium how, on Nov. 12, 2004, her helicopter was hit by rocket-propelled grenades over Iraq. She told them how one of those RPGs exploded in her lap, severing both her legs and ripping off the back of her right arm. She spoke of her comrades, who saved her life, and of the importance of each member of the armed forces to their team, even down to the lowest rank.
The York gym, filled to capacity, fell silent as students hung on the words of the Purple Heart veteran.
But it wasn't all somber. Duckworth, who injected plenty of humor into her speech, said Veterans Day should be "a joyful day to celebrate this nation and the men and women who serve this country."
Students also heard from other local veterans, including Bill Shanklin of the Elmhurst American Legion, who told the students he learned the virtues of respect, confidence, humility, responsibility, integrity, courage and leadership in the military.
They heard from veteran and York Counselor Bill Gardner, who explained the importance of tradition, and York assistant cross country coach Clyde Ware, who explained that students are just as important to the country's future as veterans.
"My fear when I accepted this opportunity (to speak) was that you would leave here and go on with the rest of your day, and forget what you've heard here," Ware said.
That appears unlikely after Duckworth's presentation, which left them all something to think about.
Duckworth concluded her time in Elmhurst at Edison School, where she shared an age-appropriate message for students, entertained their questions and posed for photographs.