Gulf Middle remembers veterans
For everyone in attendence, it was an occasion to remember those who have served our country to protect the freedoms many have died for.
For the students at Gulf Middle School, it was also an important civics lesson on American veterans and the wars the U.S. has fought.
Hundreds gathered outside on the green the school Friday morning for the 19th annual Veterans Day Ceremony.
Every year, the event gets bigger and better, said principal Donnie Hopper.
“It’s become a tradition here at Gulf Middle, the students really get into it. They learn about our veterans, wars, the armed services and we carry it throughout this week of school to promote the idea of what is a veteran and that we need to remember those who fought for our country,” Hopper said.
The event started with the raising of the American and POW flags, followed by the playing and singing of the national anthem by the school’s concert band and choir.
One of the more touching moments was a reading of the meaning of the POW/MIA table by Lt. Col. Jim Speith, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and former history teacher at Gulf Middle.
“Remember,” Speith said after every line of the reading.
It was Speith, along with Ret. Marine Corps Maj. Tim Kenny, who started the event 19 years ago as a way for students to learn the importance of veterans.
“We originally did it with the 8th grade, but after a few years we convinced the principal to let the others come and they’ve done a tremendous job ever since,” Speith said.
Among the dignitaries present were State Sen. Lizbeth Benequisto; Mary Fischer, chairperson for the Lee County School Board; City Manager John Szerlag; and Councilmembers Kevin McGrail and Lenny Nesta.
They were invited to make remarks. Two of them spoke, one to issue a grand compliment, the other to issue a challenge.
“What a beautiful civics lesson in a beautiful outdoor classroom,” Fischer said. “We’ll remember this for a long time.”
“Who likes Christmas?” asked veteran Steven Morris. “Imagine your family suddenly isn’t around you anymore.”
Morris challenged everyone to make a Christmas card and send it to a serviceman overseas, asking them to make it personal because they are making that sacrifice.
Jeff MacDougall hosted the event, and many of the students and members of the Florida Wing Civil Air Patrol were on hand to participate, including MacDougall’s son, Ryan, who played “taps” to conclude the ceremony.
Among the students were student government president and vice president, Victoria and Sydney Malloy, sisters and 8th-graders. They spoke on the beginnings of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and the definition of a veteran, and learned a lot in the process.
“I learned all veterans are heroes whether they were discharged or served overseas to fight,” Sydney said.
“Our community comes together for important reasons,” Victoria said.
Valaria Oller, student government treasurer led the pledge of allegiance and treasurer Paige Wheeler gave the invocation, while Cadet Sgt.
Chase Dye spoke of the meaning of the folding of the flag, Sarah Novak read President Obama’s Veterans Day proclamation, and cadet Airman Jenna Payton told the story of “taps.”
The rest of the students were given flags, which Hopper told them to wave when the time was right. They also stood when asked by a speaker who had loved ones which fought or served during times of war. Most of them stood.
After the ceremony, adults and guests met in the media center for a reception, while students got a chance to visit the Southwest Florida Mobile Military Museum to see for themselves what our heroes used to fight with.
“We want the kids to remember who they saw here today, the veterans who did serve our country whether in combat or not,” Hopper said.