Spirited ceremony affirms Hatteras Island veterans
At Cape Hatteras Secondary School, a Veterans Celebration affirmed the service of about 50 Hatteras Island veterans who gathered for the event.
The celebration started in the school cafeteria, where culinary students served breakfast. The formal celebration moved to the Cape Hatteras Secondary gymnasium. All middle and high school students attended. Some 56 first graders from Cape Hatteras Elementary also attended the celebration.
To the beat of the Cape Hatteras drum corps, veterans walked into the gymnasium to find seats facing the students in bleachers. Two veterans were rolled in.
“Today, our hearts are filled with gratitude,” said Cape Hatteras Secondary Principal Beth Rooks. “Today, we celebrate our heroes.”
For the first time in this ceremony, Gary Kierney introduced the Missing Man Table, which symbolizes a “sad but necessary custom in the military” honoring members who are missing. Missing in action in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf wars, and the current conflicts are more than 80,000 people. Close to the podium was a round table, showing everlasting concern for missing men and women. The table was covered with a white tablecloth, symbolizing purity of motives when answering the call of duty.
A single rose in a vase is a reminder of the lives of these Americans. A red ribbon wrapped around the vase represents continued determination to account for the missing.
A slice of lemon reminds of bitter fate and a dish of salt, the tears shed. An inverted glass says the missing cannot toast the group assembled.
The chair is empty. The missing are not here.
First graders stood in the bleachers. Two classmates came down front to lead the musical offering. In sweet voices, the children sang with hand movements: “Hello veterans, hello veterans. How are you? How are you? Thank you for your service. Thank you for your service. We love you. We love you.” The tune was the classic lullaby, Frere Jacques.
Then, the young students took cards to the veterans and exited the gymnasium.
Veterans were recognized by service branch, while the Cape Hatteras High School Band played each of the five service songs.
Some 25 graduates of Cape Hatteras High School are serving in the military. Names, photos, service branch and date of graduation of those graduates were displayed electronically on a big screen on the north wall of the gym.
Kenneth E. Sumler was the guest speaker for the occasion. He served in the Air Force for 20 years, retiring as a Major and turned next to education. Sumler is currently the Principal at North Johnston Middle School in Johnston County. He and Veterans Celebration organizer Keith Durham were colleagues.
“This is all about affirmation,” said Sumler. The performance by the first graders was “clear and evident affirmation.” The slide show of those Cape Hatteras graduates was “clear and evident affirmation.”
Sumler pointed out some events of affirmation: walking across the stage, a change of command, a decade of service. For all the student gamers, he mentioned Fortnite, a video game. The basis of that game is consistent affirmation. He brought four middle grades students down front to show dance moves, however only three participated.
Sumler challenged the students to affirm peers and affirm teachers, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
The name of those veterans who died over the year since the last Veterans Celebration were read and a chime tolled after each name: Richard D. Bacik, John Roger Cantwell Jr., Garrald Ardell Matthews “Pete” Covey, Bertie Dixon III, Michael Grant Dunnagan, Peggy Louise Martin, Manson Ellis Meekins, Howard Martin Meyer, Alvin I. Porter, William “Bill” Charles Shoemaker, Neil Reeves Swartz, Mahlon Pierce Williams Jr., and Robert Louis Willis Sr.
Two trumpeters, Henry Macchio and Gideon Couch, played taps and the band played “God Bless the USA.”
Participating in the celebration were Keith Durham, Tod Ray, Colby Day, Beth Rooks, Gary Kierney, Elvin Hooper, Morgan Fairbanks, John Contestable, Sean McCroskey and band members, Ashlee Garcia, Jessica Polk, Mya Damitio, Henry Macchio and Gideon Couch.
For breakfast, the culinary class prepared a sausage and egg casserole, a hash brown potato casserole and cut fruit. Stu’s Donuts provided pastries. Conner’s Supermarket donated drinks. The Mary and Martha Ministry of Our Lady of the Seas Catholic Church provided and served coffee.
A color guard from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet presented the colors for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, played by the band.
After he approached the podium, guest speaker Sumler said “I’m in awe right now. There are not many schools in the nation that do this.”
Cape Hatteras Secondary School in Buxton was one of two schools named by Sumler.