HELENA — On Friday, a Helena Valley family continued a decades-long tradition – celebrating a veteran who became the namesake of a local school.
Seven family members came to Jim Darcy Elementary School – as they have each year on Feb. 28 – to tell students his story.
Jim Darcy was born on Feb. 28, 1945, and grew up on a farm in the North Helena Valley. In 1965, he enlisted the Army, seeking to become a helicopter pilot.
“He was not really a warrior, but it was the time of Vietnam,” said brother Bill Darcy.
Jim Darcy was just 22 when he was killed in Vietnam, after a mechanical failure that caused his helicopter to crash.
“What he did was an incredible thing; you know, he gave his life for his country,” Bill Darcy said. “It’s nice for the kids to see something that did that, that made that kind of sacrifice.”
On Friday, the family brought in 22 sheet cakes – one for each class and one for school staff – for a celebration of Jim Darcy’s birthday. They visited each grade level of students, and Bill Darcy answered their questions about his brother. Some of the students sang “Happy Birthday” in Jim Darcy’s honor.
Jim Darcy’s aunt, Pat Sias, is credited with the idea of naming what had been called Lincoln Road School after him. Bill Darcy said Sias also started the tradition of returning to the school to mark his birthday.
This year, for the first time, the celebration took place in the new Jim Darcy Elementary building, which was completed last summer. It was one of three new elementary schools built after Helena voters approved a $63 million bond.
Bill Darcy said the family was excited to see the new building open.
“It’s beyond any expectation,” he said.
The new school groups each classroom in a grade level around a shared “breakout space” that can be used for various activities. This year, the students in each grade came into the shared space to meet with the Darcy family. Family members said they were impressed with those spaces. Previously, they had had to visit each individual classroom.
The new building also incorporates a number of reminders of Jim Darcy, from his uniform and service medals – kept in cases near the school entrance – to helicopter rotors hanging above the main office.
Darcy Strachan, Jim Darcy’s niece, said the family is glad to be able to teach kids about who he really was – beyond simply a name on a wall.
“He was a lot of fun – he loved music, loved to dance, loved to race cars,” she said. “He was a common man who did heroic things.”
Darcy Strachan and her two brothers had known Jim Darcy. Other family members – like Dana Strachan, his great-niece – continue the tradition even though they never met him.
“There’s been times that the students have actually taught me stuff about my great-uncle that I didn’t even know,” said Dana Strachan. “So the pride that we take, getting to meet these children who have such respect for somebody that we’re related to – for us it just gives us pride.”
The Darcy family thanked Vans Thriftway, which helped donate the cakes for Friday’s celebration.