Because Of The Brave – Rockbridge Academy Renders Honors To Veterans

| November 14, 2013
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Rockbridge Academy students meet WWII Veteran Ed Cleaver who served on the USS Patterson at Pearl Harbor. (Photo: Therese Cooley)

Rockbridge Academy students meet WWII Veteran Ed Cleaver who served on the USS Patterson at Pearl Harbor. (Photo: Therese Cooley)

Rockbridge Academy held its 5th annual Veterans Day Ceremony on November 11, 2013 at Baldwin Memorial United Methodist Church.  The ceremony is designed to honor those who have served our nation in the military services and to inspire students to appreciate the service and sacrifice of our country’s veterans.  In addition to the students and faculty, over 50 invited guests gathered to honor the nation’s veterans this autumn morning at Baldwin Memorial United Methodist Church.  The heartfelt turnout included two WWII veterans, two Korean War veterans, nine Vietnam veterans, 14 veterans of the Cold War, four Desert Shield/Desert Storm veterans and 12 post 9/11 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

While Mrs. Susan Petty, the church’s Music Director, played an organ prelude, Rockbridge students ushered in the many veterans, families and distinguished elected officials.  Rockbridge Academy’s Headmaster, Mr. Michael J. McKenna, welcomed the guests and gave a brief overview of the history of Veterans Day, which was followed by an invocation led by Rev. Philip Tocknell. Uniting everyone in purpose, guests and students joined in singing the Star Spangled Banner, accompanied on piano by Mrs. Adriana Schueckler, and then recited the Pledge of Allegiance, led by 6th grader Isaac Taylor.  CDR Nate Bailey, USN, Director of Advancement at Rockbridge, introduced the 42 veterans in attendance by historical period.  A spontaneous standing ovation was given to the two WWII veterans, Ed Cleaver and Floyd Gilkey.  Other distinguished guests included State Senator Edward R. Reilly, as well as local Anne Arundel County Council members The Honorable Jerry Walker, District 7; LTC (USA, Retired) Dick Ladd – District 5; and County Council Executive Ms. Laurie Neuman, represented by Ms. Ashley Ricker, the council’s Director of Constituent Services.  Bringing the ceremony into sharp focus, SSG Montee Bernardo, arriving a bit late, walked down the aisle to join the other veterans.  Bernardo is a recent triple amputee from the war in Afghanistan who served with the 82nd Airborne and 473rd Calvary out of Ft. Bragg.

Rockbridge students played a large role in the ceremony.  Ben Cooley, an 8thgrade student, provided the patriotic cover art for the program, a pen and ink collage of several naval symbols, with dog tags draped across the flag labeled, “Land of the Free” and “Because of the Brave”.   Participants sang the hymn, Eternal Father, a song asking for continued protection for all those who serve on sea, on land, or in the air.  6th grade student Isaac Taylor led the Pledge of Allegiance followed by three students presenting their winning VFW essays.  8th grader Jeremy Crawford presented his VFW essay entitled, “What Patriotism Means to Me.”  Crawford listed specific examples from history, clearly demonstrating that patriotism is a complex and multi-layered sentiment with actions of sacrifice behind it.   Following their dialectic classmate, Senior Taylor Craig and Junior Solveig Moe both presented their winning VFW speeches, answering the statement, “Why I’m Optimistic about Our Nation’s Future.”   Craig says he’s not just optimistic, he’s ecstatic about our nation’s future.  Why?  Craig says that democracy itself is the reason.  Democracy longs for, seeks, and stirs our nation to respond to the call for freedom, inspiring us now and in future generations, ultimately breathing hope and optimism into the darkness of current events.   Solveig Moe moved to the community a few years ago when her father was transferred here in the military and she talked about a recent trip to Walter Reed Memorial Hospital to see her allergist.  As she walked the halls to her appointment she saw veterans, sitting in the hallways, lying in beds, all who had seen some tragedy — all heroes.  Meeting the eyes of one veteran, she was struck by his laughter.  She spoke, “Here was a man with titanium legs, smiling and laughing.  I asked myself, ‘What kind of man can do that?’  One with a fighting sprit.  We pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.”  

Upper School Principal, CAPT Ralph Janikowsky, USN (Retired), spoke about the USS Princeton (CVL-23), a Light Aircraft Carrier that saw fatal action in the Battle of Leyte in WWII.   CAPT Janikowsky relates how when he was an active duty officer, he used the story of this ship to inspire his crew on the current USS Princeton (CG-59) when they received the body of a veteran and were tasked with carrying out the burial at sea.  The story of the “Death of the Princeton” inspired them and us with a sense of honor and sacrifice.  The Princeton and her crew heroically fought and survived a main engagement, launching 20 of her 23 aircraft and fending off 34 Japanese zeros, to die just a short while later from a series of events caused by a lone Japanese dive bomber. The ship was severely but not fatally damaged by the 500 lbs bomb, but the resulting raging fires caused so much heat that the ship’s magazine eventually blew, causing the final death blow to her hull.  When she sank, she took with her over 350 men not able to get to the destroyer rescue ships, which continued to try to stay along side of her in the rough Pacific waters.

Continuing the patriotic theme of our nation’s history, 6th grade student Alanna Craig recited President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, whose sentiment was so beautifully conveyed we were left in awe of this great moment in history.  Vice Admiral John A. Lockard, USN (Retired), was the ceremony’s invited keynote speaker.  He shared the tie that binds veterans.  It is honor – the veteran’s choice to protect, defend and preserve.  It is courage – the veteran manages fear in the face of danger.  It is teamwork – the veteran’s sacrifice of self to the team.  It is for these reasons why our veterans have never been the limiting factor in our nation’s defense, nor ever will be.   We are right to honor them today and everyday.

Rockbridge Kantorei, an upper school choral group, sang Workin’ for the Dawn of Peace by Ron Jeffers.  The soft strains of the last phrase faded to a hushed stillness, “O many are the hearts that are workin’ for the right, waitin’ for the dawn of peace.” As a symbolic gesture in honor of all veterans, each year the school closes the program by conducting a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of a local veteran.   This year the school honored decorated WWII and Korean War veteran Chief Boatswain Mate Roy Moore Winton, USN (Retired).  Chief Winton served on board the USS Hancock (CV-19) in the Pacific during World War II and was on board the Hancock during the Japanese surrender, sailing shortly thereafter into Tokyo Bay.  He served another ten years after the war, was recalled to service during the Korean Conflict, eventually retired and later moved with his wife, Marie, to Crownsville, Maryland, where they both played an active role in the church.   Chief Winton and Marie were married in 1942 and had two children, Pam and Mark.  His daughter, Pam Gertz, and his grandson attended the ceremony as well as friends and fellow congregants and from Baldwin Memorial UMC.   The Honorable Jerry Walker dedicated the wreath to Chief Winton for his faithful service to his country, his church and his community.  Ushers led the family and the rest of the guests outside for a very moving wreath-laying ceremony.  Many guests stopped along the way to personally thank SGT Bernardo, who, unable to traverse the lawn with his new prosthetic legs, lingered at the edge of the grass.  He had arrived with Mr. Scott Mallary, who is the founder of and drives for the non-profit organization called Truckin4Troops.  This wonderful volunteer drives wounded warriors around town and is a neighbor of Rockbridge Academy.  Together they were on their way to the Veterans Center when they discussed and decided to attend the school’s ceremony.  The unexpected visit was clearly well received.

On the way from the church to the graveside, Mr. Robert Wallace played a bagpipe recessional of Amazing Grace.  Taps was played at the grave side by Upper School teacher Senior Chief Jerry Keehner, USN (Retired), as the wreath, embellished with the words Honoring All Who Serve, was placed by Senator Edward R. Reilly, The Honorable Jerry Walker, and Councilman LTC USA (Retired) Dick Ladd.

Guests stayed to visit for several minutes afterwards, many wanting to shake the hands of the two WWII veterans. Mr. Ed Cleaver sat and shared Pearl Harbor and other WWII stories with all who asked.  Tears in his eyes, he said he had the best of neighbors.  They had invited him to attend the ceremony today and this morning he woke to a yard full of little American flags, and there was even a cake last night.  Mr. Cleaver lost many friends in WWII, one of whom is currently at rest on the Arizona.  Clearly cherishing the ceremony today and the chance to visit and reminisce with the students, Mr. Cleaver added,  “There is a tie. Yes, there is a tie.”    The gathering eventually dispersed, each to his own full day of duties, inspired by the brave sacrifices made to allow a day exactly like this; a day of freedom.

By: susi Hackman

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