Veterans from all five branches of the United States military were on hand as students, community members, family, and friends gathered for the annual Veterans Day Program at Fannin County High School last Wednesday.
With very few empty seats available, the school’s Performing Arts Center was full of those on-hand to honor the country’s service men and women.
Principal Erik Cioffi said the program was “an opportunity to give thanks” to the soldiers.
“We wouldn’t be were we are today without their sacrifice,” Cioffi said. “We are grateful for the service our guests have provided.”
The ceremony was highlighted by an address from Air Force Captain William A. Robinson.
Robinson is the longest-held prisoner of war in United States history, spending eight years as a captive in north Vietnam from 1965 to 1973.
For 2,703 days, Robinson was a prisoner, and he conveyed some his experiences during that time.
“Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and even years of boredom, punctuated by terror,” Robinson said. “The motto was simple: return with honor. … Never give up, never give in, roll with the punches, bounce back, get ready for the next round.”
He and his fellow captive soldiers were treated like “criminals.”
“Along with others, we were tortured,” Robinson said. “I only spent eight months in solitary – some guys spent years – in a 5 (foot) by 7 (foot) cell.”
But Robinson said he and his comrades “kept the faith – faith in each other, faith in our country that they would not abandon us.”
Despite it taking eight years for Robinson to finally be freed, he isn’t bitter or resentful.
“When you join … you signed a black check to the United State of America .. that you are willing to give your life,” Robinson said, adding that he counts himself fortunate because some French POWs were held in captivity from 1954 until 1979.
Robinson was awarded the Air Force Cross for his valor in the face of such adversity.
After Robinson’s address, the Fannin County High School Chorus sang moving renditions of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “Light the Candle of Peace,” before Mr. Bill Stodghill offered a recognition of those who were prisoners of war or are still missing in action.
More than 81,000 Americans remain missing from from wars beginning with World War II to the present day.
The nearly 50 veterans in attendance at the ceremony were called on the stage for recognition near the end of the event and were met with a standing ovation from all those present.
The school’s symphonic band, which played throughout, ended with a rousing version of “God Bless America” but senior Matt Shirah took the podium to explain the history of “Taps.”
Thomas Bartholf then played “Taps”, before the North Georgia Honor Guard “retired the colors” and removed the various flags displayed for the ceremony.