Smith-Cotton High School JROTC’s Veterans Day recognition of those who have served our country has a big impact on those who attend the celebration.
The JROTC program annually puts on a Veterans Day breakfast and ceremony that recognizes 150 or more men and women who have served in the military.
“My first ceremony at Smith-Cotton moved me to tears,” said veteran Don Barbour, who has attended the event each of its five years. “I am so proud of the JROTC program and what it teaches the youth and all involved.”
Barbour, 77, served in the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1962. He is a member of La Societe des 40 Hommes et Chebaux, better known as the 40 & 8, a veterans organization. Barbour said that other than the food, his favorite part of the Veterans Day ceremony is walking through the rows of cadets.
“I am so proud to call myself an American because of the youth today,” he said.
JROTC Battalion Commander Hollee Akers is in charge of a lot of tasks that go into putting the ceremony together. Cadets start the planning early.
“It is very tedious, and there is a lot of organizing behind it,” Akers said.
The breakfast begins at 7:30 am on Veterans Day in the high school cafeteria; after the meal, the veterans file into the gym and are seated across from the cadets on the other side of the gym. All of the Smith-Cotton students also attend and watch from the bleachers.
To prepare for the ceremony, JROTC staff members perform an “After Action Review,” where they look for ways to improve the ceremony from the year prior. A lot of the event preparation is student-based with guidance from their instructors.
“We definitely couldn’t do it without the instructors,” Akers said. “They let us start it off, but they help along the way.”
Not only does the ceremony affect the veterans, it also touches the cadets and students in positive ways.
“Being a part of the ceremony and putting it together really gives you a sense of accomplishment,” Akers said. “It’s fun to serve and watch it mean something to the people you do it for.”
Paul Bennett, 73, has attended the Veterans Day celebration all five years that Smith-Cotton has held it. Bennett enlisted in the Army upon graduation from Sacred Heart High School in June 1960, and served for almost 24 years, retiring in 1985. He is a member of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, the VFW and the 40 & 8.
“I feel a genuine pride and renewed respect for the young people of (this) generation,” Bennett said. “From the appearance, demeanor and teamwork and respect for all, it shows that (the cadets) are a force to be reckoned with later in life.”
From all that goes into the preparations to the ceremony itself, the cadets’ hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
“The Veterans Day ceremony hosted by the JROTC at Smith-Cotton is an awesome display of respect for the veterans,” Bennett said. “I beam with pride to see so many people of this generation displaying discipline, leadership and genuine fun serving the veterans.”
Meredith Kemp is a student at Smith-Cotton High School.