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Area schools have been honoring veterans for Veterans Day.

Sgt. Corey Gray, of the U.S. Army 245th Maintenance Company, was the keynote speaker at Bismarck School’s Veterans Day Ceremony held Friday morning in the gymnasium.

The program began with the presentation of colors by the VFW Post 6947 Military Honors Team; the Pledge of Allegiance led by second grade students; and welcome and informational video on the history of Armistice/Veterans Day introduced by Bismarck High School social studies teacher Abe Warren.

Next, the Bismarck High School choir and band performed “Salute to the Armed Forces” under the direction of choir director Matthew Boyer and band director Dennis Mayberry. Next was this year's winning VFW Post 6947 "Voice of Democracy" speech, written by Kelsy Carrington. The reading was followed by Jagger Ward and Ashley Hawkins who recited patriotic poems they'd written.

Addressing the veterans, students, teachers, administration and guests, Gray — who enlisted eight years ago and spent a one-year deployment in Kuwait — said in part, “Veterans Day is very special to me because eight years ago I was working my way through college at the Farmington Applebee’s. My boss came to us and said, ‘Hey, Veterans Day is coming around the corner and we’re going to offer free meals to veterans.

“So, I thought, ‘This is awesome. We get to give back to veterans a little bit. Veterans Day rolls around and we got our butts kicked. There were so many veterans — every veteran within 100 miles came to Applebee’s that day. The kitchen couldn’t keep up with it, so I decided to go around and start talking to all the veterans.

“It was awesome because I got to hear a lot of the stories from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm and even more current. I got to thinking that night, ‘Man, it’s really awesome.’ The next day I went to the recruiting office and I joined the Army because I wanted what all the veterans had in my life.”

Gray was stationed in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he joined the Air Defense Artillery and became attached to the Patriot Missile System.

“Our motto was, ‘If it flies, it dies,” he said. “We dealt with nuclear missiles, chemical warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, airplanes, unmanned aerial vehicles and we went to the Middle East to make sure that Iran didn’t invade Israel.”

After four years of active duty, Gray joined the Missouri Army Reserve Unit and he now works on guns as a small arms/artillery repairman.

“It’s a pretty awesome job and I love it a lot,” he said. “It’s really allowed me to see the power of our military — to see the might of our military. America has a very, very strong military. There are 20 aircraft carriers in the entire world. America owns 10 of them. There are 8,600 attack helicopters in the entire world and America owns 6,400 of the 8,600.

“Without veterans, without people behind them, a big tank is just a big, heavy piece of metal. An Apache helicopter without a pilot is just a beautiful, beautiful helicopter — but it still sits there and does nothing. An aircraft carrier without a crew to run it is just a big boat. So, we have every reason to thank the veterans who are here today that can turn those weapons into a means of freedom for us Americans.”

Following Gray’s remarks, Bismarck High School math teacher Randy Crites offered brief closing remarks and then introduced Caleb Boyd and Kacey Brewer who played “Taps,” prior to the military honors team retrieving of the colors, marking the end of the ceremony.

West County

Following the West County School District’s annual Veterans and Senior Citizens Banquet Thursday night, the school’s music department hosted its annual patriotic concert, featuring instrumental and vocal performances honoring the community’s veterans.

The West County High School Concert Choir began the concert with presentations of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America, the Beautiful” under the direction of Ryan Hassell.

The concert choir next performed a medley of songs selected by Hassell for their historical significance.

“This Sunday, November 11, 2018 marks 100 years to the day of the end of World War I,” Hassell said. “I thought it would be interesting and fun for our students to sing a couple of songs that were popular during World War I. The first song we’re going to sing is called ‘Over There,’ written by George Cohan and the second is called ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning.’”

Hassell said he had first heard “Keep the Home Fires Burning” several years ago upon acquiring an antique instrument.

“I became familiar with the song several years ago when I acquired an old, upright player piano,” he said. “The piano was made in 1915, and along with it came several old player rolls from the early 1900s. One of them was this song, called ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning.’”

After describing how player pianos work, which contains music and words, Hassell explained the potential significance of the artifact, which he displayed to the audience.

“This paper here is probably well over 100 years old,” he said. “I get kind of emotional when I think about the family who owned it and sat around their piano. Did they have a son who was away at war? And did they think about him when they sang this song?”

Hassell said he arranged a medley of the two World War I era songs, complete with inspiration from the notes recorded in the player piano roll.

After the concert choir’s performance, the West County Elementary Honors Choir performed “Americans We” and “Those Who Served” under the direction of Drew Hartenberger.

The West County High School Concert Band performed next, presenting “American Salute,” “In Flanders Fields,” and “Armed Forces Salute” under the direction of Darren Cordray. In the band’s final selection, the service songs of each branch of the military was performed, with veterans asked to stand when their branch’s respective song was performed.

A photo slideshow honoring veterans from the community was then presented to the audience before the Mineral Area College Community Band performed.

Under the direction of Dan Schunks, the MAC Community Band performed “The Purple Carnival,” “Appalachian Spring,” “America the Beautiful” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

North County

North County High School students welcomed veterans to their annual Veterans’ Day Ceremony Friday morning at the high school.

The assembly started off with the veterans being led to their seat by each branch of service while the Symphonic Band played each branch's song.

After a presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and the playing of Taps, North County Principal Dr. Ryan Long welcomed the veterans. He said North County has a long history recognizing veterans.

“A special thanks to Jennifer Woolard and the History Department for their passion, desire and hard work to see that this tradition continues,” Long said. “First and foremost we want to honor those of you among us that have given of themselves with little thought or consideration of the sacrifices they would be called upon to make.”

Long said their presence serves as a reminder for all of them and a reminder that the freedom and liberty they enjoy as citizens of this great nation comes at a great price.

“If we as a country are to remain a great nation we can never forget the price of our freedoms,” Long said. “So on behalf of the entire North County family, I want to welcome each of you here and thank you for your service.”

North County Student Megan Matlock said it is the members of the Armed Forces who have given everyone the ability to speak freely and stand up for your beliefs, whether or not it is in accordance with their own beliefs.

“They have given us the ability to freely practice our religion, even if it is not their own,” Matlock said. “These freedoms, among so many others, have been fought for, sacrificed for, protected, and bestowed upon the American people through great acts of selflessness by veterans that are worthy of acclaim.”

Matlock said veterans are some of the most kind-hearted humans you will ever encounter, with amazing stories and memories to tell and share if you just ask and listen.

“They can tell us what it was like to sit in a foxhole which after some rain seemed more like a swimming pool,” Matlock said. “Or even the time spent looking for an ID10T form and 10 feet of gigline. The stories that veterans have to tell can lead to hours of laughter, or tears. These memories can be so vivid it is as if you are right there with them, reliving the moment.”

She said then, there are the memories that will never be told but to those few who can be trusted and those few that understand. These are the memories that make veterans stand above all others. These are the memories that can be lived only by a veteran who has sacrificed so much more than some time away from home or missing Mom’s cooking.

North County Student Zachary Pipkin said each veteran contributed toward this nation becoming and remaining the best in the world.

“While I may never get to know each of you individually, please know that I appreciate what you have done for me, the rest of us in this room, and for the well-being of our great nation,” Pipkin said. “We all probably know a veteran around us, whether you know it or not, and I am no different. My life has been personally affected by members of several military branches. I have had five close family members serve in the military, each in very differing capacities. Two of my great-grandfathers were involved in World War II.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Brian Whitfield, who is also one of the district’s resource officers. Whitfield said as you may be aware, Veterans Day is significant to the end of World War I and the agreement to end the fight between the Allied Powers and Germany on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, on the eleventh month, which is why Veterans Day is celebrated every year on Nov. 11.

Whitfield said World War I was regarded as, “the war to end all wars” and as much as he wished this was true, the fact remains that as long as there has been, there will more than likely always be war. He added that as long as there is war, there will be courageous defenders of freedom to rise up against it.

After the ceremony, veterans were served a lunch in the back gym.

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