The annual Meadowview Middle School Veterans Day Celebration was equal parts reminder and remember on Friday.
Meadowview sixth-grade student Emily Edwards’ speech assigned values such as admiration, respect, never forgetting, appreciation, standing up for veterans to each letter in Veterans Day. She said the letter “y” stood for the continued sacrifices of those who served our country.
“The Y stands for the veterans who still fight for you, you and me,” said Edwards. She called for a standing ovation on behalf of veterans as the crowd in the gymnasium rose to its feet.
Seventh-grader Dania Ramos gave a brief history of the observance’s change from being Armistice Day to Veterans Day. She said she personally seeks to preserve and honor the memory of “those who served and give me the freedoms I enjoy.”
Classmate Ashton Lawson told the crowd about her father’s service in the Unites States Air Force and her grandfather’s service in World War II when he was 18 years old.
“It is because of veterans I have a country to be proud of,” said Lawson. “We cannot change history, but we can learn from it.”
Seventh-grade student Kameron Winesett reminded his fellow students of the importance of coming home to friends and family to veterans.
“Veterans Day is the only day we can honestly be thankful to relatives, cousins and family for what they have done in service. They don’t deserve to be spat at by the very people they fought for when they return,” said Winesett. “Our support gives them the courage to fight on and to continue their lives once they return.”
Eighth-grade student Melissa Presley asked the group to imagine what living without freedom would be like.
“You’re honoring the true heroes on Veterans Day,” said Presley. “They don’t know your name but cared enough to fight for you. Veterans Day is one of the most important days to honor someone.”
Classmate Christina Conzone continued with this sentiment in her speech.
“As a future adult, I owe them (veterans) the deepest respect,” said Conzone who noted how frightening a battlefield must have been for her grandfather, a WWII veteran. “I would have been terrified to fight. They looked directly into the face of fear and said I am not afraid.”
Featured speaker Chief Warrant Officer Chuck Johnson began his speech by saying the students had “stolen all my thunder” with their speeches. Johnson, who is a Surry County native, retired from the United States Army after 27 years of service with two bronze stars and Legion of Merit honors. His career included two tours of duty in Iraq.
He characterized himself as an 18-year-old “brat” when he attended North Surry High School. He said he was hyper and was always up to something as a student. He said he would have probably wound up in trouble if he had not served in the Army, where he started as a mechanic.
“If it was big, fast and loud, I wanted to make it bigger, faster and louder,” began Johnson. He told the group of how he loved serving under the command of retired Gen. Tommy Franks, former commander of the United States Central Command.
“He’s a big country boy from Texas with a heart as big as the state,” recalled Johnson, who told the group his first time in Iraq was before the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by insurgents. He said IEDs were everywhere when he returned to the country. He told the group there are good people in Iraq. He said they were people with good hearts we would call friends, neighbors and brothers.
“Looking into the faces of the young men and women, I saw my son and my daughter,” said Johnson. “The role of leader took on a parental role as well. We had close calls but everyone in my charge did not get hurt.”
He recalled how a Chinese-made missile “sailed over the wall” one day, sticking six inches into the dirt on impact. The missile was ordinance left over from the 1960s and did not detonate. He said he keeps pieces of the missile to this day to remind him of how close he came.
“I looked at those pieces this morning,” said Johnson. “It tells me how returning was simply meant to be. I am proud to be a veteran and proud of my service. I love sharing stories. It helps to talk about these things.”
Johnson told the group the country is losing World War II veterans at an alarming rate. He asked them to “open up a door” for veterans because they need help and someone to look out for them. Johnson told the group there are lots of homeless veterans. He said the little things they do for veterans are important and told the students to talk with their parents who served and never forget what they tell them.
“There’s a lot of selfless service in this room,” added Johnson. “Raise your flag higher, stick your chest out a little bit more. These men and women before us have fought the good fight and lived to tell about it. Doing something for them blesses your heart. It is important you give back a little bit.”
Johnson told the students to not forget the efforts of police officers and firefighters.
“Everyone knows someone who can share these stories,” said Johnson, who then offered the students some advice. “No matter what you pick to do be good at it.”
The celebration was organized by Nathan Nichols, Tammy Bullington, Jennifer Riska and Amanda Utt of the school special events committee and featured member of the North Surry High School JROTC color guard and the Meadowview Middle School band and chorus.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.