EVANSTON — Students and staff at Davis Middle School kept up their tradition of honoring veterans this year at the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Each year the school holds an assembly to honor all veterans and to pay tribute to one local veteran in particular. This year’s honored veteran was William (Bill) Orvosh.
As has become customary, following Principal Chris Brown’s opening remarks, the assembly was opened by musical numbers. Strings students played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and band students played “Armed Forces on Parade.” Brown welcomed attendees and explained that each year a new display is added to the school’s Veterans’ Hall, where photos and tributes of the previous four honorees — Benjamin Beach, Darrell French, Donald Barnhart and Jerry Wayne Valentine — serve as a daily reminder of “how blessed we are to live in the United States of America.”
Brown then shared Orvosh’s story. Born in Massachusetts in 1946, Orvosh was born with Rh syndrome — a condition caused when a mother has Rh-negative blood and the baby has Rh-positive, which can result in dangerous anemia — and wasn’t expected to live. Orvosh was the first baby in the world to undergo a complete blood replacement and survive. Brown said, “This event is what Bill says made him a survivor. At a very early age, Bill learned how to face impossible odds and with strength and determination overcome those odds.”
Brown said Orvosh became a lifelong learner as a young child and that love of education carried him through life, as he earned a degree in physics with a minor in math from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, followed by a master’s in civil/ocean engineering with honors from the University of California-Berkeley.
Brown described Orvosh as “a true Renaissance man,” who currently studies Italian, philosophy and judo; plays several musical instruments; works out every day; lives by a strict diet and does not consume any processed sugar products. He also doesn’t watch television.
Orvosh tied flies and made fly rods for fishing as a young man, has a pilot’s license and a radio license and is a certified clinical researcher. “Bill is an avid ammunition reloader and continues to be a master of printing, using hand-set type,” said Brown. Orvosh has been an active Freemason since 1986 and his heroes include Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Miyamato Musashi, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcus Aurelius and Jacques de Molay.
Orvosh’s military career began at a young age, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Airborne at age 19, joining Special Forces and being trained as a special operations diver, explosive ordnance disposal technician and special weapons technician escort. “As a young man, war fascinated Bill,” said Brown. “Bill felt that war was a teacher and that conflict brings great change, both good and bad.”
Throughout his working and military careers, Orvosh has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brazil, Switzerland and Japan, learning the respective languages of each nation during his time there. In June 2000, Orvosh joined the San Diego Police Department, retiring from the force in 2012.
Brown said, “Bill is very active and invested in making the communities he lives in the very best. We are lucky to have Bill living in Evanston. He serves on his local BSA Scout Committee and actively supports local Scout Troop 357.”
“My favorite quote from Bill is, ‘Never stop searching for the best you can be,’” said Brown. “The best part of my job is sitting in my office every fall with our designated veteran and hearing the story of their life. Each year as the veteran tells about his life there is always a special moment where a story rises up that becomes part of me and that I refer to again and again — a story that changes my character and makes me stronger. This story from Bill starts with this quote, ‘My mom was the guiding light of my life.’”
Brown then explained that when Orvosh was a young man in school, a socially awkward boy moved into his school and was teased and bullied mercilessly by other students. When Orvosh told his mother what was happening, she told him never to join in with abusing the young boy and advised him to reach out to the boy and make him feel welcome.
Orvosh followed his mother’s advice, reaching out to and becoming friends with the boy — a friendship that continues to this day. “I hope each of us at Davis Middle School can learn a life lesson from Bill and reach outside of ourselves and with kindness make sure that every student at Davis Middle School has a best friend they can count on,” said Brown.
After Orvosh joined Brown on stage, Brown explained that Orvosh finds himself in yet another battle today, with stage IV cancer. “I have spent hours with Bill and have never heard him complain about this cancer once,” said Brown. “This cancer is the war that will bring great change and, like the Rh syndrome, is another battle to fight and conquer.”
Brown then closed with final words of tribute to Orvosh and all veterans. “Today…as we honor our veteran William Thomas Orvosh, we honor veterans worldwide. They come from all walks of life, but they share several fundamental qualities. They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity. They are called to be part of something bigger than themselves. They are ordinary people who respond in extraordinary ways in extreme times. They rise to the nation’s call because they want to protect a nation which has given them, and us, so much.”
“Respecting those who protect our freedoms is our duty and obligation. I hope the students at Davis Middle School always respect and honor our veterans,” he said.
Orvosh was presented with a plaque and a flag in recognition and honor of his service. He was then escorted outside to the school’s flagpole by Scouts Andrew Dover and Gabe Atkinson. All students then walked by and thanked Orvosh for his service and he was presented with notes of appreciation from each one. While in most years the students shake the honored veteran’s hand, this year students were asked to simply give their thanks and remain in respectful silence.