Veterans Voices: Fist bumps with a purpose at Tremont Grade School

Veterans Voices

TREMONT, Ill. (WMDB) — Every Thursday morning for the past five years, a group of veterans gather at Tremont Grade School to give fist bumps to kids coming in.

Vietnam Veteran Rick Otey said his wife, a Tremont schoolteacher, “saw football players fist-bumping and thought, why not veterans?”

Otey organized a group of 17 veterans to go to Tremont Grade School to give out fist bumps. Most are Vietnam veterans. There are also a few Korean War veterans and one 96-year-old World War II veteran.

“When the veterans come and fist bump me, it just makes my day and makes me have a great day,” said second-grader Myles Stump.

“It makes me have a smile on my face and I love it,” said fourth-grader Landry Kreiling.

Otey said soldiers didn’t get a “welcome home” when they returned to the States from Vietnam.

“It was pretty brutal. We got spit at, spit on, yelled at, called baby killers, different names and stuff, so this here is 180 degrees out,” he said.

He said those fist bumps fill that void.

“One little girl this morning fist-bumped me and stayed right there, and she opened up my hand, shook my hand, and thanked me for my service, so that’s just huge,” said Otey.

Afterward, the veterans go to Jack’s for breakfast, with a special fallen soldier ceremony.

“We leave a chair empty at the end of our table, set the place for it, then just before our food comes we all stand, face the chair, and raise our coffee cups to the fallen,” he said.

Otey said it has blossomed from fist bumps to friendship, morphing into a group of veterans who understand each other.

“It’s been good for guys who didn’t know each other to become a part of each other, we call it our band of brothers,” he said.

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