Veterans honored at FHS ceremony
A crowd of several hundred students and community members gathered inside the Fairfield High School Auditorium this morning to pay tribute to those who served during the annual Veterans Day Program which is sponsored by the American Legion Post 47.
The program kicked off with a welcome address by retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class and event organizer James T. Salts, followed by the singing of the National Anthem rendered by the FHS Vox Choir under Zach Reiter’s direction.
All in attendance recited The Pledge of Allegiance.
Salts called out the names of those audience members who had served at various times during various theaters.
“All of them have stories to tell, and that’s what’s important,” Salts said, encouraging students to reach out to military veterans to learn about those stories.
The FHS band and choir joined together in a performance of “America the Beautiful.”
Jefferson County Sheriff and former U.S. Marine Gregg Morton addressed the audience saying he was saddened by the events that happened this week including the burial of two Des Moines police officers who were recently gunned down.
“All law enforcement [officers] sign a check,” Morton said, explaining that those who serve realize the dangers that come with the job.
“As veterans, we also [sign] a blank check by swearing to uphold the Constitution and protect the nation,” he said.
Morton said his heart was also saddened when he saw people, upset about the recent election, desecrating the American flag.
He said he understood that people had rights, but they should respect the flag and the people who risked their lives for it.
“Don’t do it with the flag. It signifies something else for those who have lost loved ones,” Morton said.
Morton spoke about times past, whenever those who were younger than drafting age, would forge their birth certificates in order to fight and defend the nation.
Morton said some of those young people were younger than some of the students in audience.
“They witnessed conflict … [They] fought for the flag,” he said.
Morton shared his own experience of losing fellow Marines during the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1982.
During the attack, 242 Marines were killed, Morton said some of them he had gone to boot camp with.
“Patriotism got me into the military — my buddies are what kept me in there,” he said.
Morton said if he were to witness someone desecrating the American Flag, he would let them know of his disapproval.
“It just breaks my heart to watch this happen in this day in age,” he said.
Morton also spoke about the alarmingly high suicide rates for veterans.
He encouraged the audience to visit the Wounded Warrior Project website to understand what those veterans are going through. He said 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Morton also spoke about his own experiences protecting President Ronald Regan when he was assigned to 8th & I to guard Camp David.
FHS seniors Michael Fritz and Anuja Pharasi made presentations about their time at Boys and Girls State. Both students attended the American Legion sponsored conferences earlier this year.
Audience members laughed as both Fritz and Pharasi comically regaled them about their weeklong adventures at the Boys and Girls State at Camp Dodge in Johnston.
Fritz said most of the participants in the program would try to attain the highest office, which is governor, but he decided to become a state trooper instead.
He spoke about his experiences living in military barracks, going through a gas chamber and about how the opportunity benefitted him.
“If any of you underclassman get the chance to attend Boys State, take it, and you will be one step closer to becoming the man you always dreamed of being,” Fritz said.
Pharasi shared her experiences of preparing to run for governor for Girls State after she was selected as her political party’s candidate.
Although Pharasi said she lost that race, gaining only 30 percent of the vote, she did not give up. She was later elected as a senator.
She described her week at Girls State as being life changing one, and said she benefitted the most from being around other young women from various races, backgrounds and with different ideologies.
Pharasi echoed Fritz’s quote, encouraging her classmates to attend Girls State to be one step closer to becoming the woman they always dreamed of being.
FHS Principal Brian Stone said some students started the day hours before the actually assembly, by assisting with the posting of the flags in Central Park this morning.
The Pursuing Victory with Honor club participated this morning. Stone said the club has been active for several years, but this was the first time they helped with the flags.
“I’ve already had students approach me about going back to help take them down,” Stone said. “We’re looking for students to step up and accept leadership roles.”