CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Veterans Day’s is a day for the American people to celebrate and honor those who have served our country, those who are still with us and those whose memory we hold in our hearts.
U.S. Navy Cpl. Zachary Kolda died in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
“Zach loved to make people laugh," said his mother Paula Smith. "He was the life of any gathering among friends and family, but he had a serious side as well, and he was always so dedicated to meeting his responsibilities; taking care of his team."
Smith said he she had a good relationship with her son and he looked out for her when she needed it. She said he was very enthusiastic about living life to the fullest.
“I look back on his younger years and I see that he really was always like that," she said. "Enthusiasm just out the wazoo, embracing all of life and he continued this approach into his few adult years.”
Some Corpus Christi residents still remember him, but many who didn’t know him may still recognize his name.
Zachary Kolda Elementary School in Corpus Christi was named after him. Walking into the school, his picture is immediately visible on a plaque to your right. It’s not the only picture of Kolda at the elementary school.
The school has his pictures of him during his time in the military on display behind a glass wall. In the main office, pictures of him in elementary school are displayed on a wall to your left.
And all around the cafeteria are patriotic symbols: the marine crest, painted American flags, a real American flag and the Texas flag, and the words “Knowledge, character, service” are painted on a big wall to the left of the cafeteria entrance.
They’re a dedication to Zachary Kolda himself.
“The messages that I continue to receive from young parents at the school, from friends who don’t live in Corpus Christi anymore, they just remind me that he continues to make the world a better place through these students, and the staff and the families that are a part of Zachary Kolda Elementary School,” Smith said.
Kimberly Crabtree is a first-grade teacher who knew Kolda when they were growing up. She walks into the school everyday remembering her friend, with whom she went to church and attended King High School.
“He really cared about others, and when he talked to you, he really talked to you," she said. "He made you feel like you were just seen and cared for.”
She describes Kolda as someone that was kind, smart and funny. Someone, she said, who was an all-around good person. She said she honors his memory every day in the classroom by talking to her students about his accomplishments.
“We feel so honored to be at a school that’s named after him," Crabtree said. "Our students love learning about him and it’s just amazing that they get to have that example."
Even with examples of Kolda, pictures of him and military memorabilia displayed all around the school, Kolda Elementary School also has living examples of military excellence: It employs several teachers who also are veterans.
Levy Murray is a Navy veteran and adaptive-education teacher at the school. He was stationed in Virginia and Mississippi, and said it’s a big deal to live up to Kolda’s legacy.
He said he tells his students stories about his own time in the military — the good times and the bad. He said he wants to prepare them for the military if they choose to pursue that path, and said he encourages them to choose any branch of the military.
“In the military you have a code of conduct," Murray said. "In the school it’s the same way. You try and keep that legacy alive to show the students that transition from military to civilian life, and to keep showing them that good example.”
The school has a partnership with the Corpus Christi Army Depot in which military members mentor students about what it’s like to serve. It also allows the students to do things like see a military helicopter.
Cristina Arrisola is a paraprofessional coach at the school and a National Guard veteran. She said the program is a good way for students to learn about life in the military.
She said it’s important to honor veterans such as Kolda because they have sacrificed family time and special moments when serving in the military. She said she knows that feeling all too well, but she she said she did it with great honor. It’s something she tries to impress upon her students, as well as values like duty, loyalty, and honesty.
“We try here at Zachary Kolda to demonstrate self-service, to give back to the community, to always be kind," Arrisola said. "So veterans, it’s almost doing the same thing. We give back to our country and we’re kind to one another.”