MOUNT VERNON — More than 550 local veterans joined Mount Vernon Middle School students Tuesday morning for a meal and to commune with younger generations in a moment of service and remembrance. The inaugural MVMS Veterans Day breakfast operated with a theme of “serving those who have served us,” and it was entirely student-led and served.
The event was started this year with the school’s new principal, Darin Prince, who is himself a Captain in the Army National Guard.
“I think when I was a student, I went to different assemblies and things like that, but I truly didn’t get the feel or understanding of what Veterans Day was all about until I chose to join the service,” Prince explained. “What I wanted to do for our students was create an atmosphere where they would be able to serve the veterans and to be able to be personal with them, so they could see how much it means to them, just to be thanked. I really liked seeing the veterans see the whole school clap them out.”
The turnout for the event was incredible, Prince said, as he was expecting a crowd of maybe 300 people.
The sit-down meal was punctuated with a program full of moments of solemnity led by the young students, who honored veterans in their lives and communities.
Eighth-grader Emily Springer led the welcoming address, which began with a round of applause for the service members, who were all presented with a challenge pin, a small token of appreciation from the students for their service.
“The service members we honor today came from all walks of life, but they share several fundamental qualities,” Springer said in her speech. “They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication, duty and integrity. All the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than oneself.”
A table was set in the front of the commons, as described by eighth-grader Aleah Ballinger, intentionally left vacant for service members who were prisoners of war or missing in action. The table was set for five, indicating all service areas in the armed forces: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force.
Three students, Rebecca Davis, Kennedy Kanuckel and Abby Justice, read their entries into the Patriot’s Pen essay contest, sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars, on the topic of why they honor the American flag, with all students relating honoring the flag to honoring sacrifices made by veterans.
Sixth-grader Alyse Christopher brought in several guests to attend the breakfast, including her grandparents Joe and Cheryl Christopher, and her great-uncle Charles Christopher, who served in the Army from August 1963 to August 1966, mostly in Fort Mead, Maryland, he said.
Alyse explained that it is important to her to honor and celebrate the veterans in her life and community, because she comes from a long line of public servants, including her father, who is Mount Vernon Fire Chief Chad Christopher.
“I think it’s important to honor veterans because they served and they risked their lives for all of us,” Alyse said. “He [Charles] served for us. And it makes me feel happy to come from this family, because when I get older, I want to do something like they did to help other people in the world. “
Charles explained that the Christopher family also experienced a loss when their family member, Robert Lee Graham, was killed in action in Korea while he was serving. Graham was 21 when he died Oct. 8 1952.
“I feel proud that they did something like this,” Charles said. “They’ve had such a marvelous turnout and it does make you feel good that people are honoring veterans. I was on the Honor Flight and to have the kids line up to greet us this morning, like they did for the Honor Flight, that was just really something. And I think the principal started it this year, and to have this turnout the first year is pretty amazing, and for a small town like this, they usually honor the veterans and respect the flag. When I went in, I was 17 years old. And I’m honored that I did my three years and I’m proud to have served my country.”
The event concluded with a trip outside for a rifle demonstration led by the Knox County Career Center JROTC, and a flag folding ceremony and rifle salute from the Knox County Joint Veterans Services.
Following these ceremonies, the veterans were escorted back inside the school, where the entire MVMS student body was gathered, with signs, smiles and a prolonged round of applause, as the veterans made their way down the hallways, with one final flourish of appreciation for their service to their nation and their community.