Like the flag at Iwo Jima that flies proud, strong and tall, Cody Wilson stands at attention while the VFW color guard enters the gymnasium at Silver Stage High School.
While some in attendance complacently rested their hands upon their hearts, the site of the American flag roused his right hand to be tight at his forehead, his chest to pucker out, and his eyes to gleam magnificently forward.
It was this love of the flag that linked him to the Veterans in attendance at the hour-long Veterans Day Ceremony at the Silver Springs school and to the current active military members that spoke.
But Wilson, who is not yet a high school graduate, is already on his way to becoming a soldier.
"I've already enlisted in the National Guard," he said.
Come high school graduation, he'll leave for Fort Knox, Ky., to train in reconnaissance. As the ceremony got underway, he listened intently from the front row of the senior section of the bleachers as Col. Barrett Johnson talked about why Americans went to war in Vietnam.
Johnson, a retired colonel who left the Air Force after 30 years of service, was the main guest of honor at the ceremony, but one of several veterans from different branches of the military in attendance.
"It was a very controversial war," said Johnson. "Soldiers were spat on when they came back. Families were blasphemed. It wasn't much fun coming back from the war. The American people lost faith in why we went (to Vietnam)."
The reason to go, he explained, was communism was on the rise. And as it spread through Eastern Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, millions of people who disagreed with the ideology were imprisoned, disappeared or starved to death, he said. About 259 million disappeared during the spread of communism, which was about equal to the population of the United States at the time, he said.
"Our leaders decided they were going to try and stop the spread of (communism) and they picked Vietnam," said Johnson.
Of the many memories that remain from his three tours of duty, one stands particularly vivid. A young Vietnamese girl in a blue and white gingham dress had came to the military base at Ben Wa and was selling mice. Six men had gathered around.
"They were stuffing Vietnamese money into her pinafore to pay her for the mice she was carrying," he said.
The girl blew up. All six men died.
"(Vietnam) wasn't really an easy place to be," he said. "The Vietcong were ruthless."
Johnson was not the only one to speak at the ceremony. Personnel from several other branches, including the Navy, Army and Marine Corps briefly shared their thoughts on service, and members of the color guard and veterans in the audience introduced themselves.
The Second Veterans Day Ceremony at Silver Stage was planned with help from the Leadership Class and Honor Society by junior Candace Smith.
"My main goal was to make sure the veterans knew how much we appreciated them," said the 17-year-old said, who worked on the ceremony since September. "These aren't just people in uniforms. They people with meaning. They're the reason we're here."
Part of the ceremony included a rousing version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," by sophomore Heather Rush.
"I think it's an honor that (the veterans are) here today," Heather said. "I think it was an honor to sing for them. It's a great sacrifice to leave your family and go and serve your country."
That's exactly what Wilson is doing when his senior year comes to an end.
"There's a lot of opportunity to learn in the Army," Wilson said. "But I think one recruit put it best, (I'm doing it) to fight for those who can't fight for themselves or to fight for those who won't."
n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
American deaths from combat
• Civil War, the Union and Confederate casualties combined: 184,594
• Spanish-American War: 385
• World War I: 53,513
• World War II: 292,131
• Korean War: 33,651
• Vietnam War: 47,369
• Persian Gulf War: 148
- Statistics provided by the
U.S. Civil War Center