ST. MARYS — Local high school students paid tribute to those who have served in the military as part of the first Veterans Day celebration in their new building.
Memorial High School students, teachers and administrators invited veterans to visit their school during a ceremony on Friday.
Memorial High School social studies teacher kicked off the ceremony by welcoming those in attendance and reciting the history of Veterans Day and its beginnings as Armistice Day.
“So it is today that we celebrate Veterans Day to honor all veterans, men and women, of all the branches of our military,” teacher Chad Doll said. “They exist in most family trees. They are our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles and grandfathers. For some of us they may include a great-great-grandfather who fought with Sherman in Atlanta or even more distant relatives standing in arms against the British. The time and place do not matter for all that serve deserve our thanks.”
Doll noted veterans are all around the community, state and nation.
“They come from everywhere, including hometowns just like our own St. Marys,” he said. “They’ll tell you they’re just one of the guys, but they’re not. When our nation called, they answered. They did their duty with no thought of special treatments or reward. They never asked for notoriety or recognition. Many of you saw combat and refrained from talking about what they’ve seen. All I ever heard for years from one veteran in Patton’s third Army was simply, ‘We kept going so we could go home.’ Home to the ones they missed and loved.”
Doll stressed thanking the veterans for their service.
“Today, especially, is the day to thank them for what they’ve sacrificed for us,” he said.
“Some have lost friends. Some have lost physical abilities. All of them have given up the innocence of youth, and for all members of our armed forces past and present, they agreed to lose time and memories that can never be replaced.”
Doll noted a member of his church who was deployed to Iraq, and while overseas he missed his daughter’s first steps, first words and her first birthday.
“When he came back, he told me his biggest fear was never death nor injury but rather coming home to a daughter that might not know who he was, and yet he went,” Doll said. “He went to protect what he believed in, for others, for his family and for the rest of us, so that we can have those kinds of memories. It’s because of the likes of him that we have the freedoms that we often take for granted.”
Doll quoted famed World War II Gen. Douglas MacArthur who said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
“Whether that is true or not, it is our duty to ensure that the gratitude for and the memory of them never fades away,” he said.
“They are soldiers, they are unlike any other in our society. We’ve no truly award appropriate for what they’ve done or are willing to do again. The best we can do is to honor their service and offer a humble word of thanks. And so to the men and women of all our armed forces and especially to those of you with us today, on behalf of our nation and our community, we say to you, ‘Well done and thank you.’”
Next, World War II veteran and St. Marys graduate Eldon Montague spoke to those gathered in the gymnasium.
“Just a year ago I believe, the last World War I veteran died; he was 106 years old,” Montague said. “The statistics show that today, approximately 1,000 World War II veterans are dying every day. No wonder when I get up in the morning the first thing I do is look in the obituaries.”
He gave an overview of World War II and noted some of his experiences growing up in the Great Depression — including working a wage of 35 cents an hour at Goodyear one summer he was home in college before he joined the Marines.
“I hitched a ride to Cincinnati to the federal building and decided to join the Navy,” Montague said, noting he sailed through the physical tests until he met the foot doctor and was told he had flat feet, so they denied him. “I could’ve gone home free, I guess, but the mentality just wasn’t that way in those days.”
Instead of going home, Montague walked across the hall into the Marines office where he encountered the same problem with his feet. The doctor then asked if he could walk 10 miles with a pack on his back.
“All I had to say was ‘No’ and I was home free,” he said. “Like a dummy I said, ‘If the rest could I could.’ He said, ‘I believe you could, sign here.’ That’s how I became a Marine.”
Montague noted his time spent in the Pacific — including seeing the plane headed to Hiroshima with the atomic bomb — as well as the nation’s current occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the threat of terrorism.
“It’s my hope and my prayer that the United States will not have any more actual wars during your lifetimes,” he said. “Thank you for inviting me.”
Next, 1998 Memorial High School alumnus Andy Sanford, who is a sergeant in the Army National Guard, spoke about his experience during the 13 years he has spent with the guard — including his time in Iraq. Sanford also noted what he wore in the Middle East, and two fellow Army National Guard soldiers dressed high school student T.J. Powell in a Guard uniform.
“Now I hope everyone can see and better understand some of the sacrifices that our men and women have made for each and every one of us,” Sanford said.
“This generation, unlike any other, has seen our nation at war for most of their lives. However, unlike past generations, this generation has never had to worry about rationing. They’ve never had to worry about being drafted in the service. The reasons why no one in this generation has ever endeared these things during 10 years of war is because of our great men and women in uniform and our all-volunteer military today.”
He added he counted the Memorial High School graduates who have served with him as part of the Guard — 72 names. Some are siblings, cousins, fathers and sons.
“Military service is not just a personal affair, it is a family affair. Every person that I’ve ever enlisted I remind them their whole family is enlisting with them,” Sanford said, adding thanks to those who came to the event at the school on Friday. “Next time you see a veteran, tell them thanks for their service. That’s all they ask for.”