There’s no short supply of patriotism at Cartersville Middle School.
The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders paid tribute to local veterans from all five branches of the military Thursday morning during their annual Veterans Day program titled “American Salute: A Veterans Day Celebration.”
The event featured American classics performed by the symphonic and concert bands and the eighth-grade chorus, recognition of veterans and active military personnel, the presentation of colors by the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard and guest speaker Tony Bryant, a retired Army chief warrant officer 2 and father of two CMS students.
“[We do the program] to honor our veterans, show patriotism, support our country, just basic principles that are why we are Americans,” said Band Director Michael Elzey, who organized the event with Choral Director Erin Gunter.
The morning began with a breakfast, sponsored by the Parent Teacher Council, for all veterans and their families in the media center, followed by the program, which the school has done for at least 10 years.
Introduced by his son, Keegan, Bryant, 41, said he was “honored to be speaking with you today on a most emotional occasion.”
“We’re here today to honor our veterans, the heroes that served past and present,” said the Wichita Falls, Texas, native, who joined the U.S. Army in August 1995. “The veterans we honor today come from all walks of life, but they share some of the main qualities. They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity.”
Veterans also were “called to be part of something bigger than themselves,” said Bryant, who served two tours each in Iraq and Afghanistan and one tour each in Bosnia and Egypt.
“They were ordinary people who served in extraordinary ways in extreme times,” he said. “They rose to the nation’s call because they wanted to protect the nation who has given them — us — so much more.”
Keegan, 14, was happy he got to introduce his dad.
“I think it was pretty cool because my dad, he’s never been one of the speakers for anything for me yet, so I thought it was pretty cool,” he said. “To be the introduction for him was also really cool. I am very proud of him.”
The eighth-grader, who plays tenor saxophone in the band, also loved how the school recognized the nation’s heroes.
“I think to honor the veterans is amazing because they do so much for our country that we need some way to appreciate that, so, to me, this is one way to do it very well, to play their songs for them, the way they remember it,” he said. “That’s amazing that we can do that.”
Ridge Rozier, who has been on active duty in the U.S. Air Force for seven years, said he thought the program was “very well put together.”
“You can tell the students took time to practice, and everything was pretty spot-on, even from the marching,” he said. “I was looking at the steps, and yeah, everything was spot-on. I was surprised.”
Stationed in Germany but home for a visit, Rozier, 29, was impressed by the respect showed by the students.
“I think that it’s good to see the young kids actually taking it serious and doing such a great job,” he said. “That is good that they actually take the time to go through everything. It’s amazing.”
The airman said he joined the Air Force because his family, which lives in Cartersville, had served in the military, “and I think that we should have somebody to defend our rights.”
Vietnam veteran Earl White, 71, of Cartersville said he loved the program, which he attended for the first time.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “My granddaughter goes to school here now, so I came down to be with her. I’m proud of Cartersville Middle School for putting on a good show for us. I’m proud of everyone that served.”
White said he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968.
“It was a family thing,” he said. “All my brothers did. I was the youngest brother so I went, too.”
Another Navy veteran, David Smith of Cartersville, who served from 1973 to 1975, came to see his granddaughter perform in the band for the second year.
“Oh, I liked it,” said the 63-year-old sailor, who was stationed at Naval Air Station Atlanta; NAS Memphis, Tennessee; and NAS Fallon, Nevada. “It was a good program.”
Elzey said retired teacher Susan Cook, “a very dear friend of mine,” started the Veterans Day program at CMS several years ago.
“Her son was in the service, and she wanted to recognize him as well as our other veterans,” he said. “So, she was the creator of this program.”
Students at the school “really do” understand the meaning behind the observance and the songs that they played, like “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams from the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Elzey said.
“We talked about that [song] for a good half of the class period — what it means, painting the picture of D-Day, which is depicted in the movie, what you’re supposed to feel and pouring that out when they play their instruments,” he said. “Or when Mr. Bryant was speaking, absorb everything that he has to say because he’s been there. Things that we can’t imagine, things men and women have done, [students] need to support that, reflect on it, what it cost for us to be free.”
The band — 87 eighth-graders and 52 seventh-graders — started preparing in mid-September for the program, which is “a lot more complex now” since it expanded from two band songs and the national anthem to a “full concert,” Elzey added.