The Military Order of the Purple Heart’s Distinguished Service Award was presented to Principal Dewey Davis and the staff and students of Zachary Elementary School in December.

“This was the first time we’ve given the award to a school in Louisiana,” said Adjutant Richard O’Brien, of 177 Red Stick chapter in Baton Rouge. “You’re being awarded for your patriotism and going above and beyond the call of duty honoring combat veterans.”

O’Brien, who attended the Dec. 16 School Board meeting with several members of the MOPH Red Stick chapter, presented Davis with the award on behalf of the school.

Typically, the award is given to a person performing a service act for a combat veteran, O’Brien said.

“We’re always awed by the children when we come to Zachary and how well-behaved, well-mannered and respectful they are,” O’Brien said. “They know all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ That’s impressive. That just doesn’t happen; that’s taught.”

About eight years ago, O’Brien and Davis first met when the Red Stick chapter members were invited as guests and speakers at Zachary Elementary’s Veterans Day program.

Davis explained that his students make a donation each year — $1 per small American flag — and display the flags in the area where the program is held. The donations are collected and sent to the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s Red Stick chapter to assist wounded combat veterans and their families and to help spread the word of patriotism.

“My students sing, salute and honor these men and women who have given so much for our freedom. In a way, my students get to rub shoulders with the real heroes, the men and women who have played an important role in the service of our nation,” said Davis, whose 90-year-old father is a World War II veteran, twice wounded in combat, and a Purple Heart recipient. “It’s such a natural connection, my students with these veterans sharing their stories of combat and personal sacrifice and service.”

“When you take 600 children and bring them together like that and can hear a pin drop … these students are so well-mannered and respectful of their elders,” O’Brien said. “Our members brag about what goes on at Zachary.”

O’Brien said patriotism should be in taught in schools.

“Zachary leads the state in education, and it’s obvious they’re instilling patriotism in their youth. Zachary students go beyond what’s required of them, so we give credit where credit is due,” O’Brien said.

A wall of honor in the school’s computer lab has photos dating to World War I that is meant to educate the youth. It’s where O’Brien hopes the award will be placed to “remind the students of their service to the Military Order of the Purple Heart.”

The Military Order of the Purple Heart’s membership consists of combat veterans who were wounded on the world’s battlefields while serving their country in uniform.

“For their sacrifice, they have been awarded the Purple Heart Medal,” O’Brien said.

MOPH membership totals about 45,000 from 50 states, six regions and 475 chapters including those in Guam and Puerto Rico, according to purpleheart.org.