By Tia Lynn Lecorchick, staff writer
Morgan County High School hosted a Veterans Day Memorial Service on Nov. 11 to honor past and present servicemen and servicewomen. The auditorium was packed full with students, from kindergarten to high school seniors, teachers, community members, and local veterans and their families. MCHS Principal Jim Malanowski estimated that around 2,500 people attended the ceremony. “It is significant to realize just how many people are affected by this day. These services started out very small years ago, and now look at it,” said Malanowski. One of the benefits of holding a Veterans Day ceremony at the high school was affording young students the opportunity to learn about and appreciate veterans. “Having the memorial service at the high school was the best decision we could have made,” said Jim NeSmith, post commander of the Calvin George Post 37, who lead the event. “I have never seen this many kids at one time.” Amidst the multicolored attire of the vast crowd stood out clusters of navy blue uniforms, particularly the Air Force Junior ROTC members, who were proud to be present at the memorial. “We want to respect those who have already served, to show them that we do care,” said Brandon Reda, 15, a ninth-grader at MCHS and an AFJ-ROTC member. “One of us could be in the service someday, so we want to respect their service now,” added Cody Lord, 15, a fellow ninth-grader and AFJ-ROTC member. Master Sergeant Jamie Atkinson, who also teaches science and business at MCHS, was chosen to be the main speaker at the memorial service this year. Atkinson has 15 years of military service and can trace a long line of family members who have served in the military since the Revolutionary War. “I want to thank all the veterans that are in this arena today. Without you, we would not be here. Remember, it is veterans who make the sacrifice to leave our families and jobs in order to answer our nation’s call,” said Atkinson. Atkinson encouraged the crowd to adopt the principles deeply ingrained within veterans. “We live and operate by certain core values. Those values revolve around honor, loyalty integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do. These are words to live by, not just to recite on special occasions,” he explained. Atkinson reminded the audience that nearly 50 million Americans have served in the military since the Revolutionary War and future servicemen and servicewomen would most certainly be needed. “We are incredibly grateful for the service of those who have gone before us, for those who have laid down their lives.We will continue to need people to stand up and answer the call of this great nation of ours,” said Atkinson. Two recent MCHS graduates, Dakota Shelton, 18, and Bryce Kiepper, 18, who now both serve in the National Guard, spoke about their dedication to America at the memorial service. “It is a big day for all of us veterans here.We must remember everything they have done for us,” said Shelton. “Every American has a part to play in this country. Every American, at some point, will be asked to put the needs of this country before their own. Not everyone is going to be a soldier, but you should take every opportunity to be the best you can be. A country is made of its citizens and those opportunities for our citizens were paid for by these veterans,” said Kiepper. The ceremony was especially moving for attending veterans. Warren Dugas, 82, a veteran who served in the Korean War, was pleased with the spirit of the event. “There is such comradery here with other veterans and knowing what being a veteran stands for, knowing we have served and loved having served,” explained Dugas. After the servicemen and servicewomen were recognized and the songs in honor of the country were sung, Atkinson urged the crowd to personally thank veterans. “Tell them you appreciate their service and the sacrifices they have made for this country. For a veteran, that means more than any medal, award or paycheck ever could,” he said.