West Hall Middle School Principal Sarah Justus recalled memories of her former student, Pfc. Johnathon Millican, who was killed in action last year in Iraq at age 20, during a Veterans Day ceremony.
The entire student body assembled in front of the school’s Patriot Park veterans memorial garden Tuesday to honor all those living and deceased who served in the U.S. armed forces. West Hall Middle School Patriots lived up to their school mascot when four former students dedicated a marble etching of themselves to the Patriot Park. The marble etching represents the now West Hall High School sophomores in their capacities at the middle school as athletes, patriots, artists and academic stars.
Recounting stories of Millican when Justus was his fifth-grade teacher at Lula Elementary School, Justus described him as a kind soul who closely guarded the class’ pet hamster. She told the middle school students that it’s people like Millican who Americans should honor on Veterans Day.
"Before he died, he wrote on his Web site, ‘Sometimes you hate the war, but you’ve got to love the warrior,’" she said with teary eyes. "... Somewhere at all times, there is a soldier standing in a quiet or sometimes not so quiet place, standing guard for us. To honor them today is the least we can do."
One of the 60 memorial stones in Patriot Park bears Millican’s name. Justus said students dedicated 19 new stones to the park Tuesday.
Six of the new stones represent patriotic families in the community who may have had a loved one serve in the armed forces, while the other 13 are dedicated to veterans.
Engraved on a handful of the new veterans’ stones are the names of West Hall Middle School’s head custodian Doug T. Carlton, who served as a paratrooper in Vietnam, and the late Spc. Thomas Franklin Duncan III, brother of West Hall Middle School sixth-grader Marcus Garcia, who was killed in action on June 9 in Iraq. Joseph A. Nelson, father of West Hall Middle School’s health teacher Joe Nelson, also was honored with a stone bearing his name.
Justus said former West Hall Middle School student Jesse Turner, who is now a freshman at West Hall High School, fixed the student etching and new stones into the Patriot Park as part of his Eagle Boy Scout project.
Jesse also arranged for the same American flag that flew over the nation’s capitol on the first day of this school year to fly in Patriot Park next to the new marble etching.
Malcolm Moon, now a sophomore at West Hall High School, is one of the four students represented on the marble sketching. Moon played basketball at the middle school and is depicted as an athlete on the memorial. He said he is proud to lend his rendering to support veterans.
"People really should stop and think about what (veterans) have done for our country," Moon said. "They’re out there every day defending our country. That’s something most people would never want to do."
Justus said it was fitting West Hall Middle students were able to dedicate the new park additions on Veterans Day.
"It’s a day we give thanks to those who gave so much so we can enjoy so much," she said to students. "Freedom is not free. It’s paid for with a huge price. You are future patriots who must guard this freedom. Today we will honor the veterans who you may someday become."
Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, said all 34 county schools honored veterans Tuesday.
At Spout Springs Elementary School, students made dozens of red, white and blue tissue paper flowers that created a sprawling image of an American flag on the school yard lawn. Steve McDaniel, principal of Spout Springs Elementary School, said students were inspired by the poppies described in the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae to create the flag of flowers.
At North Hall Middle School, the annual Veterans Day assembly is set for 1:30 p.m. Friday. The North Hall Middle School band and chorus will perform and the honor guard from Riverside Military Academy will post the colors. A veteran also will spend the afternoon speaking to students about his service in the armed forces.