BY KARISSA MILLER
West Iredell High School JROTC cadets and students showed their patriotism and pride in local military veterans during the student-led Iredell County Veterans Day Ceremony on Thursday morning.
“I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to our veterans and their families who are sitting before us. Today’s ceremony is for you,” said Cadet Battalion Commander Austin Anderson, welcoming veterans and community members gathered inside the school gym.
Cadets from North Iredell, Statesville, South Iredell and Mooresville high schools, along with the West Iredell chorus members and Warrior Band, also participated in the ceremony.
“I want to personally thank the veterans. If it wasn’t for your sacrifice, I wouldn’t be standing here before you today in this role,” said West Iredell Principal Ben Johnson. “This is a time that we take, not only to celebrate you, but focus on the magnitude of your sacrifice.”
Johnson described veterans as real-life superheroes and thanked them for their attendance.
Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Jeff James said veterans are brave because they are willing to stand in the gap and defend America whenever liberty is threatened.
“These men and women repeatedly answer the call to defend our nation on every front and battle from our War of Independence …to World War I, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, 9/11 and our ongoing battles against evil,” James said.
In closing, James thanked veterans for “putting patriotism above profit and for putting love of country above their self.”
The Warrior marching band performed the respective branch anthems of the U.S. Army, Marine Corp., Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
N.C. Rep. Jeff McNeely addressed the cadets, reminding attendees that, “Freedom is not free. We are the land of the free because of the brave.”
Cadets Savannah Webber, Vanity Lee and Kristina Randall read poems that commemorated veterans and described some of their experiences either in war or at home.
West Iredell High JRTOC First Sgt. Reggie Hooker said that this is the 39th year the ceremony has been held. It began in a classroom single classroom and has grown to include more than 700 veterans and their families.
Principal Johnson said the ceremony allows students to use their talents to serve others while simultaneously connecting with military parents, grandparents and other veterans in the community.
Veterans concluded the program by exchanging stories over a barbecue luncheon, which was donated and prepared by Cooking for Christ.
A.W.O.L. Motorcycle Club (Delta Ride) presented the West ROTC program with a $1,000 grant, which will help fund next year’s Veterans Day Ceremony.
JROTC members continues the the tradition of recognizing the oldest veteran in attendance. Andrew Pendleton, who will turn 101 on December 6, received a handcrafted wooden flag. He served in the Air Force. (Read about Andy Pendleton’s experiences in World War II HERE.)
William Martin, 96, received an American flag for being second oldest veteran. He served in the Navy.
The youngest service members in attendance were Elle Xiong, 18, who serves in the Army National Guard, and Abby Weddington, 19, who is in the Marine Corps.
Cadets also make patriotic posters each year which are displayed throughout the school for the Veterans Day event.
Poster winners this year are:
♦ Bravo: Ivey Benfield, Kelsey Brown and Sarah Benge
♦ Charlie: Christina Bachman
♦ Delta: Lillian Hastings