On Friday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.. the hour that marked the end of World War I, veterans gathered at the foot of the lighthouse on St. George Island to mark the day created in their honor.
Then on Monday morning, the Franklin County Schools paid tribute to the county’s veterans with a program that brought together schoolkids from both of the district’s public schools to salute those veterans.
And then on Wednesday morning, the First Baptist Christian School held a Veterans Day program, five days after the Friday morning threat of Hurricane Nicole forced a postponement.
It was all an opportunity to honor the county’s veterans, with gusto and solemnity, in programs that blended patriotism and love of those who have served and are serving in the nation’s armed forces.
“You did what it took in order to defend the United States of America and we thank you for doing that,” said retired Vice Admiral Gerald L. Hoewing, in his keynote address to the island’s ceremony.
“What is really neat is seeing our veterans in positions of leadership here today,” he said. “Veterans continue to serve using the skills they learned in the military and employing them to their work after service, to first time responders to police and sheriffs and firefighters and EMTs and teachers and superintendents.
“Now is the time to not only honor those who fought for our freedom, it’s time for each of us to take part in protecting it,” said Hoewing, the former CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. “The defense of freedom is not just for those in the military. Each of us has to share in that duty and we can work together in order to protect the freedom by doing our part to protect that freedom for generations to come.”
Following his introduction by Air Force Col. Christopher Anderson, Hoewing spoke of battlefield heroes in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and that of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and likened the service of all veterans to those acts of bravery. He served for 35 years in the Navy as a naval aviator flying missions from aircraft carriers at sea, as well as commanding an F/A-18 squadron, a combat logistics support ship, an aircraft carrier, a carrier strike group, and the Navy personnel command.
The Franklin County High School Navy Junior ROTC Color Guard provided color guard services to the ceremonies on both the island and at the school, with the one at FCHS including a flag-folding ceremony in front of the entire gymnasium, filled with students from both FCHS and the ABC School.
At the island ceremony, Cheryl Fritsch-Middleton, pastor of Forgotten Coast Community Church, offered both the invocation and the benediction, while at the school that honor went to senior Parker Mock.
At the island ceremony, Air Force veteran Bob Heide introduced guests, who included newly elected state senator Corey Simon, and recognized the many veterans in attendance.
Larry Hale, a Marine from Vietnam who was the recent commander of American Legion Post 106 in Apalachicola, read off the names of the county’s veterans who passed away over the past year, while the current post commander, also a Marine veteran from service in Vietnam, read the names while tapping a small bell. These men included Mike Stanley, Jimmy Tew, Jim Philyaw, Jim Stewart, John Hockman, Sidney Larry Kelly, Bob Garner, Richard Delarber, Ricky Dermont, Elgin Sizemore, Steve Atkins, Johnny Burch and Buck Davis.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Vacasa sponsored lunch for all in attendance, provided by Dave’s Dawgs, and Collins Vacation Rentals provided dessert and drinks.
At Monday’s ceremony at the high school, Superintendent Steve Lanier, who served in the Air Force and Navy for a total of 27 years, welcomed the veterans, reminding them that the district was back on track after the coronavirus pandemic forced two years of cancellations of the event.
Lanier thanked those school employees who are veterans, and reached out to students as well. “We honor every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman who gave some of the best years of their lives to the service of the United States and stood ready to give life itself, on our behalf,” he said. “To every student here today I want you to remember that ‘You are our bright future, you’re the future of America.” Every one of you can make this country better than it is. I challenge each of you because we need you to do that.
“The men and women sitting here today in front of you were selfless while they served our great country. They ensured your right to travel freely all around this great country and around the world, to do things like having access to the internet, the ability to go to the movies, watch TV, play sports, attend sporting events, to go a concert, to just hang with your friends, or go to school,” Lanier said. “Without our veterans, there would be no America. No freedom, not our way of life. We would not have everything we hold most dear.”
In addition to songs sung by students from both schools, and a tribute by the elementary school drumline, the event featured a reading by Nehemiah Robinson of poetry, and a description of the Missing Man Table, read by Mya Brown.
Honored this year were three of the district’s distinguished veterans, who each served in the Army – Maj. Gen. James Donald, with 33 years of service; Sgt. 1st Class Myrtis Wynn, with 23 years of service; and Capt. Leland Mattern, with 47 years of service.
Following the event, which was coordinated by Dolores Hayward-Croom, the veterans were treated to lunch prepared by students in Sara Ward’s Culinary Arts program.