Two weeks after the federal holiday, Cape Hatteras Secondary School (CHSS) faculty, staff, and students refused to allow Veteran’s Day to go unrecognized. In their annual Veteran’s Day event on Friday, CHSS honored local veterans and active-duty servicemen and women with sustenance, signs, and songs.
Veterans were welcomed into CHSS’s cafeteria at 9:00 a.m. for a sit-down breakfast prepared by Evan Ferguson’s Foods class. Ferguson’s students, alongside EC teacher Ashlee Garcia’s students, served the former servicemen and women plates of biscuits, sausage, bacon, and fresh fruit.
The celebration then moved to CHSS’s newly-repaired gym. Damage to the gym’s roof after Hurricane Dorian was the reason the school decided to push the celebration two weeks from its normal date. Despite the delay, nothing was lacking to honor these men and women. As veterans made their way to the gym, they were greeted with signs, decorated by PE teacher Keith Durham’s students, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
Students and faculty stood up in a show of respect as veterans first entered the gym and a drumline, led by Shawn McCroskey’s CHSS band, welcomed them. Everyone continued to stand as military members presented arms and carried the flags of the U.S. and the Coast Guard around the gym to the tune of the National Anthem. CHSS’s baseball team, coached by Durham, then recited the Pledge of Allegiance before the flags left the gym.
First graders from Cape Hatteras Elementary School (CHES) sang a song honoring the Veterans to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” ending their ode with “God bless you.” The students then left the bleachers to walk amongst the veterans and present them with cards and drawings they had made for them.
Army veterans from VFW Post 10950 presented junior Rubie Shoemaker and senior Amber Harrell with the first and second place prizes, respectively, for the Billy Brown Scholarship. Shoemaker and Harrell each wrote an essay on “What Makes America Great” which were deemed excellent by the scholarship board. They each received cash prizes, medals, and lanyards for their efforts.
The CHSS band then played the songs of each branch of the military as veterans stood for the branch in which they served. Though the majority were from the Coast Guard, every branch was represented by local veterans including the Air Force and the Marines.
Ashlee Garcia and math teacher Jessica Polk spoke of their personal connections to the military. Garcia, whose husband Tony served in the Coast Guard for nine years, presented a slideshow of graduates from CHSS who are currently serving in the military. Polk spoke of her grandfather’s service as a Green Beret as a powerful example of the effects of military service on the entire family. She asked everyone who had ever had a relative serve in the military to stand up. Nearly everyone in the gym was able to stand, showing that almost everyone had a personal connection to a veteran.
“Words cannot describe the pride I hold knowing my husband was serving causes bigger than himself. It is an honor to be a part of an event that not only celebrates local veterans but provides opportunities for students to give back to them,” Garcia said.
Coast Guard Veteran and former CHSS resource officer, Gary Kierney, presented the names of local veterans who have passed away since last year’s celebration, while CHSS band member Conner Tawes honored them with the playing of taps from his trumpet.
Russ Gurganus, Facilities Director for Dare County Schools, then spoke on his experience in the U.S. Army. Not only did Gurganus make this event a success by coordinating the repairs to the gym, but he also gave an emotionally moving speech on his experience as a third generation Army soldier. Amongst tears, Gurganus told of the pride his father took from being a serviceman and the impact that made on him as a child. He ended hopeful that his experience would have a positive impact on his sons as they grow up.
The event concluded with thankful remarks from both Durham and CHSS Principal Beth Rooks. Durham was the major player in organizing this celebration designed to honor those in our community who are especially worthy of our appreciation. He, along with staff, students, and community members worked very hard to make it happen this year despite the setbacks from Hurricane Dorian. Durham, however, credits the students for making the event a success this year.
“I am continually impressed by [our] students’ show of respect at events like these,” he said.