The biggest celebration of Veterans Day was the 13th annual Veterans Day program at the high school where 36 veterans were guests of honor and were seated in front of a packed gymnasium of students, staff and community members.
“The men and women who have served and are currently serving are the backbone of our country. Our freedoms are built on the blood, the sweat and the tears of our veterans and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we remain free. So let us never forget these brave men and women. Let us honor them each and every day not just through our words but through our actions,” said High School Principal Tony Petersen. “I would like to thank our veterans and their families for being with us here today. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your service.”
An immediate rousing ovation for all the veterans followed. There were many more rounds of applause throughout the ceremony.
The program featured the high school Honors Choir performing “We Honor You” and “Freedom’s Song.” The high school symphonic band played the National Anthem, “Armed Forces on Parade,” and “Peacemaker March.” And not a whisper could be heard when “Taps” was played before a moment of silence.
It was during that moment of silence that students and community members remembered veterans who didn’t make it home - veterans like Dane Carver and Nicholas Roush, both TK graduates.
Rich Jenkins, the honored veteran of the year, also remembered Carver and Roush killed in 2005 and 2009. “I am a veteran. I am not a hero. And there is a difference,” said Jenkins. “I am accepting the honor of honored veteran only on behalf of your fellow students and members of this school, Dane Carver and Nick Roush. Those two are the latest heroes and it is an honor that I will not accept on my own behalf because I am just a veteran - not a hero,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins is a retired captain of the U.S. Army Reserve and current commander of Post 140 American Legion.
He encouraged everyone to visit the Middleville memorial and learn more about the 13 names on the wall of honor - 13 names of heroes who gave their life for this country including Carver and Roush.
“Take those names home and study them. Learn what it is to be a hero or more to the point what it costs to be a hero,” said Jenkins.
It was partially because of the deaths of Carver in 2005 and Roush in 2009 that a committee was formed in Middleville to create a Veterans Memorial. After 10 years of planning, fundraising and hard work, the memorial now stands near the pavilion downtown.
“There was a significant concern that we weren’t going to be able to pay the respect that these two young heroes deserved,” said guest speaker Jerry Welsh.
That started the push for the memorial for all from the area who have served and a special wall of honor for those 13 members from the Middleville area since World War I who lost their lives in service.
“Quite honestly, I think it’s one of the best Veteran Memorials in the state of Michigan. Those solid granite pieces are absolutely beautiful, and they surround the veterans, which is exactly what this community did. You surrounded the veterans who had served with your love, your money and your support for this memorial. This community is extremely veteran proud I can tell you that,” said Welsh.
The monument is made with 8-inch-thick granite slabs - 11 feet tall and seven feet wide. The heroes' wall stands overlooking the rest of the veterans' names engraved on bricks surrounded by two additional granite walls bearing the inscriptions “Some Gave All,” and “All Gave Some.”
Welsh served as a sergeant in the Air Force and continues working now in the veterans' transition program helping more than 2,000 veterans transition into civilian life.
Welsh remembered his good friend Charlie Pullen who served on the memorial committee and died in 2020. “If he was standing here today, he would say, ‘No veteran should ever die alone’ and that’s what that memorial stands for.”
The event also featured students including Emma Reil who offered a student viewpoint on Veterans Day. Her “papa” enlisted in the army and served as a paratrooper for many years. She said he joined for the possibility of a better future for himself and his family. “He sacrificed the home stretch of growing up for the opportunity of having a better life growing old, even if the possibility of getting any older wasn’t there.”
She said her grandfather was also in the Army and fought in World War II. “He was drafted before he was able to finish high school. He sacrificed the rest of his high school years and the rest of his life to serve our country,” she said.
“Veterans Day is a reminder of the sacrifices our veterans have made leaving their families and homes to protect the freedoms we hold dear. It’s a day to repress our gratitude, not just through words, but through our actions. Let’s support our veterans. Listen to their stories and ensure they receive the care and respect they deserve,” said Reil.
Other AP History class students also joined in thanking the veterans. Makenzee Knight told the story of the MIA POW Table set in front of the podium. Ava Zellmer read “The Best on Earth: A Veterans Day Tribute” and Devon Barnhill read a special “Thank You” to the veterans. Jacob Welch welcomed everyone to the event and offered his own thank you to the veterans.
The names of each of the veterans attending were read and rounds of applause given for each branch of service. The veterans got even more thanks when the students emptied the bleachers and lined up to formally shake hands and personally thank the veterans who came to the program. Veterans and their family members were treated to lunch after the program.
Jenkins ended his speech offering one last comment to the school and the community. “Thank you for continuing this program. Thank you for making this old man very, very happy.”