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“It is important to reflect on the tremendous debt this nation owes its veterans, and to never forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before us as they defended our freedom and way of life.”
Those words were spoken by Brigadier General Lonnie Culver Friday morning to a gymnasium filled with students, as well as veterans and other members of the community. Gen. Culver was the keynote patriotic speaker at Washington County High School’s annual Veteran’s Day celebration.
Gen. Culver, a native of Nelson County, told the crowd of the importance of the service of all veterans. He stressed that in all wars throughout American history, veterans have given their all to defend the freedom we experience today.
“Freedom isn’t free and eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for our liberty,” Gen. Culver said. “We must pay for our liberty. What we must resolve is to now keep the faith with our veterans and our military as this nation continues to fight and win the global war on terrorism.”
Gen. Culver said he feels that no state represents the spirit of selfless service better than Kentucky, and he pointed out that since the war on terror began following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 12,000 Kentucky soldiers have been mobilized, including more than 10,000 Kentucky National Guard members.
“As we speak our Kentucky Guardsmen are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Additionally, there are nearly 500 soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq,” Gen. Culver said. “I have been extremely proud to see the citizens of Kentucky continue to demonstrate our frontier spirit. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 seem to have rekindled the flame of patriotism in many of us.”
One young man present at Friday’s ceremony was touched by those events, so much that he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps following his 2006 graduation from WCHS. Anthony “A.J.” Lee attended the ceremony, having just returned home serving in Iraq. Lee presented an American flag that had flown over his base in Iraq to WCHS principal Leon Smith as part of the ceremony.
“It’s overwhelming. It means a lot. I was just sitting here watching this a few years ago,” Lee said. “I know a lot of these kids. It’s a good feeling to be able to come back and bring the flag back here. It’s good to be able to come back and bring something back that people can see from Iraq.”
The flag Lee presented flew over his base in Alasad, Iraq, on Oct. 7, 2008.
Lee said he had thought about a career in the military, and he said he was motivated by the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
“They did motivate me. It’s just more ammunition to want to get out there and keep doing what we’re doing,” he said, adding that he is in favor of troops remaining in Iraq. “They talk about bringing us back, but I don’t think they should. I think we’re needed over there and we should stay over there.”
Lee said he has been back in Kentucky since Nov. 1, and he will soon depart for North Carolina, where he will stay for six months before returning to Iraq.
Other activities at the Veteran’s Day ceremony included readings by students paying tribute to local veterans from wars throughout history. Patriotic music was performed by the WCHS band and chorus, as well as a song by Mary Kutter, a WCHS student. Mr. Tim Messer read a list of deceased Washington County veterans, and all veterans in attendance were announced by Mr. Tom Ellis. Patriotic artwork by WCHS students was also recognized and on display.
Students from the Washington County Future Farmers of America presented the meaning of the folding of the American flag, and the ceremony was concluded by the playing of Taps by Benji Gaona, a student and member of the WCHS band.
“This is the first time I’ve been to Washington County High School. I do a lot of veterans’ events, and these kids are our future,” Gen. Culver said. “One of them is going to have to take my place one of these days. It’s a real pleasure to get out here and talk to these kids. The military today is doing very well and everybody is meeting their recruiting goals. It’s because the younger generation understands the importance of the war and what we’re doing to build a secure world.”