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Veterans were recognized at schools throughout the county last week, headlined by a Veterans Day ceremony at Washington County High School on Friday morning.
WCHS Principal Paul Terrell shared some statistics with the packed gym of students, faculty and community members, and recognized the veterans in attendance for all of the sacrifices they’ve made.
Terrell said there are 550,000 members of the United States Army, 330,000 members in the Air Force, 322,000 in the Navy and 200,000 Marines, as the crowd applauded veteran representatives from each branch of the military.
When speaking of sacrifice, Terrell also addressed those who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice, with more than 5,000 men and women killed in active duty in 2011.
Many of Washington County’s veterans were in attendance and countless fallen local veterans were acknowledged, but Terrell brought the military’s impact even closer to home when speaking about a senior student who has decided to pursue a military career in the Marine Corps following graduation in May.
“He asked me that I not share his name, so I’m going to honor that, but we are proud of you for the commitment that you’ve shown and that you want to do something for your country. Thank you,” Terrell said.
Other students honored veterans by sharing essays or finding other ways to be involved with the event. Senior Beth Purdom sang the national anthem and Faith Hill’s “There You’ll Be,” and the Future Farmers of America showcased the proper way to fold an American flag, which was presented to Willisburg Mayor Pat Kirsch at the conclusion of the ceremony.
The WCHS band performed the songs that represent each branch of the military, as veterans stood to be recognized when they heard the song affiliated with their service.
Some of the most powerful words on Friday morning came from guest speaker Joe Abell, who has been a chief knowledge officer in the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) since March 2010.
Abell, who served more than two decades with the Marines, said veterans are the same people we see in everyday life and they should be thanked for the work they’ve done for their country.
“Today, there are over 24.5 million veterans living in the United States,” Abell said.
“They are farmers, teachers, bankers, business leaders, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, even grandparents. They go about their lives without having any doubt about their service and their sacrifice.”
Abell spoke proudly about the importance of the U.S. military and said that despite any troubles our country has seen in recent years, we’re still the benchmark that many other nations look to.
“Freedom is the very essence of our nation,” he said. “To be sure, ours is not a perfect nation, but even through our troubles, we remain a beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere.”
Abell also told the story of a fallen Marine, who was no stranger to overcoming adversity, excelling as a high school athlete on his football and wrestling teams despite his 5-3, 125-pound stature.
The Marine rocketed through the ranks to being named corporal, and during his second tour to Iraq his four-man unit was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED).
The corporal was badly injured in the blast, but still had the courage and awareness to direct his men to safety, before he succumbed to his wounds while providing cover for the men he was sworn to protect. He earned a Purple Heart for his sacrifice.
“Stories like this have become so commonplace that they’ve lost the attention of our national media,” Abell said. “Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines continue to patrol the streets of Afghanistan, and as we celebrate this Veterans Day, I ask that you take into consideration the many sacrifices made by our active military personnel and our veterans. They are our true American heroes of today.”
The hour-long ceremony ended with a long ovation from the crowd and the special guests were treated to a chili dinner to conclude the celebration.