By SHEA STASKOWSKI
and BRIAN HAWKINS
Starkville Daily News
Thursday’s observance of Veterans Day saw educational institutions across the nation pay tribute to those who serve and have served in America’s armed forces, and local schools and Mississippi State University were no exception.
Starkville High and Starkville Academy each held Veterans Day programs, inviting local veterans to attend and be recognized.
Retired Col. Charles Ware, a native of Starkville, served as the guest speaker for SHS’s Veterans Day tribute. Ware has given more than 29 years of service in the United States Army and has earned many distinguished awards the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Superior Unit Award and many others.
Ware reminded those gathered to thank a veteran, not just today but everyday for the freedom they have fought for so that civilians can enjoy.
“They felt freedom is worth the time in a life that’s lived but once,” Ware said of all veterans. “They’re young, they’re old, they’re rich, they’re poor, they’re black, they’re white and nearly every category in between, and they have all sacrificed something so we can share in freedom today.”
The JROTC, who coordinated the tribute program, also helped recognize and thank the 14 faculty and staff of SHS who are veterans.
Master Sgt. Ronald Smith, who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as the guest speaker for Starkville Academy’s Veterans Day program.
Smith, who has two children at SA, began by thanking the children for sending cards to him while he was overseas.
“I really appreciate that,” he said of the cards. “You don’t know how it affects you to be appreciated like that.”
Smith, who has served in the army since 1986, explained to the students that his service to his country is not what he considers a noble act.
“I love my country, and I love my job, and that’s why I do what I do,” he explained. “Regardless of the situation, it’s my duty as an American to serve my country in war or peace.”
Smith told a story of the most rewarding experience he has had while in the military, and it happened to occur during a time of peace.
Just before Hurricane Gustav hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2008, Smith and his battalion were sent to the coast to encourage people to evacuate.
“Another reason was to find out who was staying in case something bad happened, we’d know which houses to come back to,” Smith said.
After the storm hit, the battalion set up a distribution site to pass out ice, food and water. Smith recalled unloading six tractor trailers full of supplies.
“It was very rewarding to see Americans coming through in need,” Smith said.
“Our country offers great freedoms, and every man and woman who has served has secured those freedoms for you,” he added.
Gathering on the university’s historic Drill Field after officials laid wreaths at various campus war memorials, members of the Mississippi State community paused to remember those among them that had served our nation along with thousands of other Mississippians over the years.
“It is fitting that we hold this ceremony on Mississippi State’s historic Drill Field where thousands trained to serve our country, some of them paying the ultimate sacrifice,” said Andrew Rendon, director of the Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans at MSU.
MSU President Mark Keenum expressed pride that the university ranked among the top 20 most veteran-friendly higher education institutions in the nation by Military Times. It is important to remember veterans for their contributions, he said.
“Mississippians, in particular, have been prominent in their willingness to answer the call and do more than needed in times of conflict,” said Keenum, noting that 65 Mississippians have died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 9 years.
“Today, we honor veterans, both living and dead. The wreaths we laid at the various memorials to honor the casualties of past wars encourage us to keep their memories alive.”