Local high schools to honor veterans

By HASKEL BURNS,

With Veterans Day less than two weeks away, several area schools have scheduled appreciation events in honor of those who have served in the United States armed forces.

Officials from Oak Grove High School will kick off the celebrations at 7 a.m. Nov. 8 at Movie Star Restaurant in Oak Grove, with the school’s annual veterans breakfast. The event, which is sponsored by the school’s student council and the Lamar County Board of Supervisors, will feature a performance by the Oak Grove High School Showchoir.

“We just kind of have veterans come in and eat breakfast, and we have a little program with the military medley, The Star-Spangled Banner and the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Jerri Whitecotton, a history teacher at the high school who oversees the event. “Everybody just kinds of meets and enjoys fellowship. The main thing is just getting the students involved with veterans and appreciating them. 

“I teach history, so something that I want students to get from my class is that we should appreciate veterans and always thank them for their service. It’s important for us as a community and a school for us to instill that into our students.”

Whitecotton said the event usually has a great turnout, with approximately 300 veterans, students and community members participating each year.

“Many of the veterans have been attending the breakfast for years,” she said. “This is our 22nd year, so it’s just gotten bigger and bigger. It’s a pretty great event.”

Hattiesburg High School will hold its 2018 Veterans Day Breakfast from 7:30-8:30 a.m. Nov. 9 at the high school’s multipurpose room at 301 Hutchinson Ave. The breakfast will feature retired Air Force Lt. Col. Raylawni Branch, who was one of the first two African-American women to attend the University of Southern Mississippi.

The event is hosted by the Hattiesburg High School Junior ROTC program, in partnership with the African American Military History Museum.

“We look forward to hosting the annual Veterans Day Breakfast to show local veterans how much we appreciate their service,” said Lt. Col. (Ret.) Gregory Hill, who serves as Senior Army Instructor of the school’s Junior ROTC program. “This celebration is also a great opportunity for our JROTC cadets to meet true American heroes, as they also aspire to one day serve our country.”

Petal High School will host a Veterans Recognition and Appreciation Ceremony Nov. 9 at the school, 1145 Mississippi 42. Breakfast will be served from 8:45-9:30 a.m. in the school’s cafeteria, followed by the ceremony from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in the gymnasium.

The youngest, oldest and longest-serving veterans will be recognized, and the school’s Showchoir, Speech and Debate teams will give performances. Former PHS principal Eric Boney, who is currently principal at Hattiesburg High School, will be the guest speaker.

The event also serves as the Junior ROTC’s Cadet Service Learning Project, which is part of the ROTC’s curriculum.

“One of the specific classes (in that curriculum) is Service Learning,” said Lt. Col. (Ret.) William Wolfarth, Senior Army Instructor for Petal’s JROTC. “It’s not community service – it’s not picking up trash along the highway – it’s giving back to the community so that the cadets actually gain or learn something from that.

“So it’s not just that day – they supported the military appreciation football game earlier in the season, they’ve had an ongoing fundraiser and they’re going to hold another event after Veterans Day for some of the local veterans. But the capstone event is the breakfast and the appreciation ceremony right here at the high school, so that all the students can show their appreciation for the men who have served both in peacetime and in war here in the local community.”

Wolfarth said this year’s Veterans Day – which falls on Nov. 11 but will be federally observed on Nov. 12 – is especially important because 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“The armistice which ended World War I was on November 11, 1918,” he said. “So there’s a special emphasis this year as the 100th anniversary.

“But obviously we’re honoring veterans from World War II all the way to the present. So I hope they’ll be impressed with a school-wide, campus-wide supported event.”

All events are free and open to all current and former military service members of all branches of the Armed Forces.