Spring Mills Middle School's 'Patriots' honor veterans

November 09, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Sharon Webb, a flight nurse for 167th Air National Guard speaks at Veterans Day program held at Spring Mills Middle School on Friday morning.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. — Les Smith told Spring Mills Middle School students Friday that he enlisted in the West Virginia Air National Guard years after he wasn’t drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

“I wanted the opportunity in some small way to perhaps pay back what had been given to me by others,”  Smith said at the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly.

Smith, who is a counselor at Martinsburg High School, along with Sharon Webb, a military flight nurse who works at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, were the guest speakers for the hour-long program, which featured performances of patriotic music by the school’s seventh- and eighth-grade chorus and individual recognition of area veterans who attended.

Smith said he was 34 years old when he enlisted in the West Virginia Air National Guard after moving to Berkeley County in 1980.

“There was something about moving here that changed my life,” Smith said. “I went to basic training with 17 and 18-year-olds ... I (was) be old enough to be their father.”

Years earlier while attending West Virginia University, Smith admitted he felt “blessed” to not have been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

“My number was higher than those that they took to Vietnam,” Smith recalled.

In more than 26 years of military service, Smith recalled his deployment to Iraq as a cargo loading specialist, a job that he said wasn’t “glamorous” but he was honored to serve in the war effort nonetheless.

“I drove forklifts ... payloaders. It wasn’t anything glamorous. We [transported] everything from bread, bullets or whatever the Army and the Marines needed, the Air Force needed to bring to them to support the effort,” Smith said.

Smith recounted how Iraqi citizens came with their children to the base in need of medical care.

One man “was scared to death ... to come onto the base and receive treatment for his son’s serious injury,” Smith said.

And Smith also recalled the more substantial sacrifice of other soldiers who lost their life in the war and told the students that there are lots of things to be thankful for because of people who served in the military.

“I truly believe freedom is never free,” Smith said.

At the program’s end, the student body of about 700 enthusiastically waved small U.S. flags as they joined in singing along to a recording of the song “Proud to be an American” at the program’s end.

The program honored two school staff members, Sid Fries and Cheryl Reid, for their military service and Korean War era veteran Tom Horn recognized Spring Mills Middle School teacher Carol Hamilton and school librarian Cynthia Woods for their work in organizing a special bus trip to Washington, D.C., for veterans each year.

Students at the school have raised money for the past five years to make the “honor drive” trip the nation’s capital possible.

Woods said Hamilton “deserves all the credit” for the annual trip before they opened gifts from Horn on behalf of the veterans, which were wrapped in camouflage patterned paper and contained a tan military cap and shirt for each of them.

Horn was among about three dozen veterans seated on the gymnasium floor who were invited to introduce themselves and cite their military service to the student body. Many noted their relation to middle school students at the assembly.

In opening remarks, Spring Mills Middle School principal Nancy White this year’s program was the school’s seventh.

“Believe me, we are very proud to be known as the Spring Mills Middle School Patriots,” White said.

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