With Veteran’s Day here upon us, Fannin County High School held an assembly to honor the many Veterans, in the area, that have served in the United States Armed Forces.As guests and students were seated, the Fannin County High School band performed an array of patriotic songs until, principal, Erik Cioffi welcomed everyone. After Cioffi’s welcome, local scouts presented the colors. The group was led by Brendan Jourdan. Once the colors were posted, freshman class representative, Natalie Hicks led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem was performed by Fannin county High School chorus. The chorus also performed the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Once the chorus had completed, the band played the Armed Forces Medley as Lt. Col. George Pletcher asked each Veteran to stand as their branch’s tune was played.
Pletcher then honored the Prisoners of War and the Missing in Action as he explained the significance of the Empty Chair. With over 142,000 POWs and MIAs since World War I, Pletcher pleaded that these individuals remain in our hearts and minds until they return home and continue to offer moral support to their families that are also suffering.
Sophomore class representative, Alex Chastain, honored each Veteran by announcing their name as they walked across the stage. The audience applauded each individual solider as their name, branch of service, rank and war of service (if applicable) was announced.
After the service men and women were recognized and honored, Ali Reynolds read her poem aloud that she wrote to honor Veterans around the world.
It’s not every day you meet someone valorous;
However, they stand among us.
There is more to them that what meets the eye,
For they’ve seen men beside them fall in battle and die.
Day after day they fought
For freedom is what they bought,
Could they be sent from heaven?
I believe so, for who else could deal with a heart that is leaden?
There are soldiers now, who are fighting in a battle,
To be free once more, to them, it’s well worth fighting for.
So brethren, when you grow weary,
Try harder to be a fiduciary.
Remember that these men have survived in trenches,
And they do not bathe in riches.
They lay their own lives down on a thin line,
So that we keep ours, yours and mine.
Our country they fight to defend.
They stand strong and absent of fear to the very end,
So what is your excuse for not caring?
They may be a stranger to your life, but remain in faith affirming,
That whether or not they find the silver lining,
They stand with their pride—fighting.
From the smoke and ashes they will rise,
Remaining valiant and true without compromise.
A piece of their heart I take with me forever as they march on…
After Reynolds’ poem, the representative of the junior class, Holden LeDinh spoke to everyone.
“The true foundation of our society is not those who lead us, but those who fight to preserve what they people of this country have worked so hard to create. America, is more than any other, a land worth fighting for and our Veterans know this best”
LeDinh said. He continued that warriors are handed the greatest honor in nearly every society.
“America should be no exception”
he said. LeDinh challenged his audience to see past the violence of each war and see that the reason for the war is always to protect the way of life that we American’s know, love and enjoy each day.
“Next time you begin to question the righteousness of a Veteran’s service, remember how much you have to be grateful for due to a Veteran’s actions”
LeDinh said as he reminded everyone how the actions of the military seem to be misinterpreted. To end his speech, LeDinh presented a challenge for those listening.
“Thank a Veteran with more than just empty words and a pat on the back. Let them see that, undeniably, you’re grateful for what they have sacrificed for you, that you feel their pain and suffering, almost as if it were your own, that you look past the uniforms and the shiny medals and see that Veteran for what he truly is: the ultimate example of true devotion and motivation”.
LeDinh also reminded the audience that for a Veteran’s family and friends, the battle is just as great, despite the fact that it isn’t on the front lines of combat. He concluded his speech by expressing his gratitude for being able to attend a school that knows the value of those who fought to preserve our freedom and is willing to place such emphasis on such an important holiday.
With each class being represented, the senior class was represented by Sage Kafsky. Kafsky discussed freedom in her address to those present at the program.
“These heroes have left behind their families, their friends and all they have ever known armed with their conviction, often times with the awareness that they might not ever make it home again”
she said. Kafsky reminded everyone that our country would only be the land of the free as long as it is home of the brave. Without the daily sacrifices of those serving our country, the basic freedoms we take for granted would cease to exist. These freedoms range from deciding what television show to watch to the freedom to choose what church to attend.
“I would not be able to stand in front of you today if it wasn’t for the sacrifices made by the men and women of our military. So, today, I want to say a personal thank you to all of the Veterans here, as well as the millions of Veterans stretched to the furthest regions of the Early”
Kafsky said in closing.
After the senior class address, sophomore Alex Chastain introduced the keynote speaker, Captain of the United States Army, Ben Arp. Arp served from 1968 to 1971. Countries that he served in include the United States, Panama, South Vietnam and Louse. Arp took the stage by saying
“Let me thank Fannin County High School on behalf of all the Veterans present here today. You have made us feel honored; you have made us feel appreciated; most special of all, you have made us feel at home.”
Arp continued by saying that there is always a time that a soldier longs for home and that nobody does it better than the schools of Fannin County. In nearly 250 years of existence, a mere 4.5% of the population of the United States has opted to serve their country. This is a mind blowing, low percentage. Arp explained that the American mindset of a Veteran is misleading because we often think of a Veteran as one that served in a war or conflict. By definition, this is not true. A Veteran is anyone that has served or still serves our country.
“The Veterans here today served our country during peacetimes and in times of armed conflict”
he said. With 116,000 lives lost in World War I, 420,000 lost during World War II, 54,000 lost in the Korean War, 58,000 in the Vietnam War, over 2,000 lost in the Persian Gulf War and nearly 2,000 lost in the War in Iraq, Arp noted that there are many more lives lost in conflicts like those in Panama, Somalia, Kosovo and Lebanon. With these facts presented, Arp wanted to remove himself from the spotlight and highlight soldiers that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
The first soldier Arm honored was Burton K. Phillips, Jr. He was born on May 24, 1944 and gave his life on November 24, 1969. Phillips was a dear friend of Arp and they served together during the Vietnam War. He recalled the event that claimed his friend’s life…a mine during a patrol in South Vietnam.
“Burt was the best friend I had in Vietnam”
Arp said. Some 13 years later, Arp attended the dedication ceremony of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. On November 13, 1982, Arp had the honor and privilege of running his fingers along the name “Burton K. Phillips, Jr.”. He traced his dear friend’s name and has since returned five times in the past 30 years to honor, pay respects and visit his, lost in combat, comrade and the thousands of others featured on the wall.
The second individual Arp selected to honor was local hero, Noah Harris. Harris was a student that graduated from Gilmer County High School. He lost his life serving in Iraq on June 18, 2005. Arp remembered him as a phenomenal student, star athlete and excellent actor. After high school, Harris attended the University of Georgia. One day after the 9/11 tragedy struck America in 2001, he decided that he wanted to answer the call to defend our nation.
“His loss is irreplaceable, not only to his parents, but to our nation as well”
Arp said as he recalled the exceptional student and person that Harris was.
Arp also honored two Veterans that survived their call of duty. Dan Wesmorland and Tom Long.
Wesmorland served in World War II and was a Prisoner of War in Germany. In 1943, Wesmorland’s plane was shot down during a mission. The pilot managed to land the plane safely on German soil but they were quickly overcome by German troops. Wesmoland spent the rest of the war in a German Prisoner of War camp. Arp recalled stories told by Wesmorland. The food they were typically served was a soup that was very thin and a bread that had a fair amount of saw dust in it. After the way, Wesmorland returned home and raised a family in Marietta, GA. He passed away in 2002.
The next Veteran that Arp honored was also from the great generation from soldiers from World War II. Long was a favorite cousin of Arp’s Mother and was known for being the first on the scene during times of family crisis. He was also one of the first to arrive during America’s assaults in North Africa, Italy and France. After serving in the war, Long returned home to Dalton, GA and raised a family.
“Tom was very active in working with various organizations and led many activities to benefit the widows of World War II Veterans”
After honoring four Veterans, Arp discussed himself.
“Thanksgiving Day, 1969”
Arp said in a modest manner. After having several friends significantly injured and/or lost during that autumn, Arp said
“I wrote home to my Mom that I had little to be thankful for that Thanksgiving.”
Shortly after his letter was received by his mother, Arm began to receive letters and cards from men and women in the Epworth community, as well as from his church.
“I even received words of encouragement from some of my former teachers”
he recalled. To wrap things up, Arp reminded everyone that the power of a letter or card, particularly this time of year, for a soldier should not be underestimated.
“God bless each of you, God bless Fannin High School and may God continue to bless the United States of America”
he said in closing.
To conclude the ceremony, Fannin County High School band members, Amanda Foster and Jonathan Jones played Taps and the retiring of the colors concluded a, truly, beautiful and humbling Veteran’s Day Memorial ceremony.
FYN would like to commend the Fannin County High School students and staff on the tremendous thought and hard work put into the planning and hosting of such a wonderful ceremony to honor the true American heroes. We would also like to thank all of the Veterans and active duty service members. If you are interested in sending a card to a service member, but do not have someone specific in mind, you may do so by addressing the card(s) as follows:
Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456
*The deadline for having cards to this address is December 6th. Please click here for a complete list of requested guidelines for the cards.