KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Veterans, family members, neighbors and friends crowded along a flag-draped Gay Street Friday morning for the Knoxville Veterans Day Parade. Among the crowd were hundreds of stories. One from Halls is more bittersweet than the rest.
The Halls High School robotics team, Red Nation Robotics, walked to honor their mentor, Ervin Schoolfield. The Air Force veteran’s time in the service included flying a number of drones. His team recently learned he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and so the parade was their way to honor him.
Because Schoolfield was feeling too sick on Friday to attend the parade, pictures were sent to him so that he could watch.
“He’s someone I look up to,” said senior Christian Latham.
Red Nation Robotics marched from the Coliseum down Gay Street without their mentor.
“The kids are experiencing what all of us do in life, which is we have loss, that we serve and we help,” said mom Naomi Lohmann.
“I feel honored that he’s spending his last moments with us. It makes us proud,” said senior Robert Lohmann.
The team created a sign as another way to honor Schoolfield.
“We’re trying to do this to honor him. We just want to show him that we care about him and support him through what he’s going through,” said Robert Lohmann.
“He’s extremely kind. Basically what a father-figure should be,” said Latham.
Schoolfield served in the Air Force in seven combat tours from 1995 to 2002.
“I’m going to be thinking about him and every veteran. They’re the backbone of this country,” said Latham.
The team’s robot led the charge during the parade.
“Just the fact that he feels as bad as he does, but he comes in and spends hours with the kids, he’s always smiling regardless of what he’s going through,” said Naomi Lohmann.
“He really gives us help on building robots especially in the wiring part because none of us are electricians. So we’ve always got questions and we’re uncertain,” said Latham.
While the future is uncertain, the team is thankful they have the opportunity to show Schoolfield he’s so much more.
“We want to wrap our arms around him and be his family,” said Naomi Lohmann.
“I just want to thank him for everything he’s done for us, for this country, for all of us,” added Latham.
We spoke to Mr. Schoolfield over the phone Friday afternoon, he says it’s been an honor helping these students the last year.
We’re told the Red Nation Robotics team is heading into one of their ‘big build’ seasons so they’re looking for people in the engineering industry who can coach. If you’d like to sponsor, donate, or mentor the team you can click here and visit their website.