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Kershaw County honors military on Veterans Day

Posted: November 12, 2015 6:24 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Jim Tatum/C-I

C-I WEB EXTRA: Camden Military Academy’s JROTC unit stands at parade rest during American Legion Post 17’s annual Veterans Day program Wednesday. Camden and North Central high school’s JRTOC units participated as well.

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Students, family members, staff and veterans from all branches of the military filled Camden Elementary School’s (CES) multi-purpose room Tuesday for one of the Kershaw County School District’s many Veterans Day-related celebrations. Similar ceremonies took place across the district, as well as Wednesday at Camden’s American Legion Post No. 17 and American Legion Post No. 195 in Lugoff on Thursday.

In addition, the unveiling of a Army AH-1F Cobra helicopter refurbished by Applied Technology Education Campus students, also Tuesday morning, coincided with the county’s patriotic honors (see accompanying photo).

At CES, the ceremony began with Principal Carol Pryzbyla’s welcome, an Armed Forces Medley by 4th Grade students and the presentation of colors by the Camden High School (CHS) color guard.

Kindergarten students then filed through the audience, handing out red poppies and American flags to veterans in attendance, some of whom turned out to be their own parents. First Graders followed, handing up shoeboxes to the day’s guest speakers: Camden Mayor Tony Scully; Kershaw County Council Chairman and retired Maj. Gen. Julian Burns; Keith Gaines, a former Marine who oversees initial, advanced and graduate level education at Fort Jackson as a civilian; Nathan Greene, a retired Army Bronze Star Medal recipient who is now a first-year special needs teacher assistant at CES; and Army Staff Sgt. Andre Gambrell, Greene’s cousin, a chaplain’s assistant at Fort Jackson who teaches others in his career field.

The seemingly endless supply of shoeboxes will be delivered to deployed soldiers “down range,” Gambrell said.

Scully talked about Camden’s history with veterans, from the Revolutionary War to today’s battles in countries like Afghanistan. He said wars can be “personal,” mentioning the loss of one uncle in World War I and another in World War II. He concluded by telling students while the community honors its veterans on Veterans Day, it also honors them, “the new generation.”

“You are the next turning point, and I believe that you, and you, and you will be the peacemakers,” he said, randomly pointing at several students.

Burns decided to have some fun with students, reminding those who heard him speak last year about hats. Pulling an Army helmet out of a large bag, he said, sometimes, “what you wear on your head determines what you have in your heart.” Putting the helmet back in the bag, he said this year, he wanted to talk about horns. The first one he pulled out looked like deer antlers. Students gave him a resounding “no” when he asked if that was the kind he wanted to talk about.

Instead, Burns pulled out a bugle and trumpet. After telling them he was not only a CHS graduate, but a graduate of CES as well, he got students to shout out the best school is CES, best principal is Pryzbyla, best mayor is Scully, best superintendent is Dr. Frank Morgan, but they all gave different answers when asked who they think is the best teacher.

Returning to the horns, Burns asked students who woke them up Tuesday morning. Most students replied their parents did. Fiddling with his cellphone for a moment and then holding it up to the microphone, Burns played back a song he said would wake up those in the Army: Reveille.

“That’s what every soldier in the Army and Marine Corps wake up to every morning,” Burns told students. “And the words go like this: I can’t get ‘em up, I can’t get ‘em up, I can’t get ‘em up in the morning. I can’t get ‘em up, I can’t get ‘em up, I can’t get ‘em up today.” He said when a soldier gets up to Reveille, they say they’ve been called somewhere.

“So, remember, when you wear a hat, it influences what you have in your heart, but what you hear also influences what’s in your heart. And your veterans all answered that call to come and serve because in their heart that’s what they believe,” Burns said.

Gaines’ speech focused on freedom and what it means, while Greene talked about his 20 years in the Army. Greene admitted he didn’t know all the sacrifices he would have to make to serve his country.

“The early mornings, the late nights, being separated from my family, sometimes months at a time, the many moves and changes, schools for my kids, from Korea to Georgia to Iowa -- yes, Iowa -- to upstate New York where I was just 25 miles away from the Canadian border,” Greene recalled. “My job was to do one thing, and one thing only, and that was to protect all citizens of the United States of America.”

He said he became part of a team placing their lives on the line so students like them could live their lives.

“People ask me quite often, ‘Why did you do it?’ And my answer is the same: so that my oldest son could attend Johnson & Wales in Charlotte and become a chef. So my daughter could work hard and become a recent inductee to the Beta Club at North Central High School. So that I can become a school teacher and give back to our community,” Greene said.

He urged students to work hard in order to become whatever they want to be, because that is what veterans have fought for.

“So, when you meet a veteran, thank them for their service and for what they did and to those who currently serve … shake their hand and tell them, ‘Thank you,’” Greene concluded before introducing Gambrell.

Gambrell joined the military in 1986 and served in Germany as a telecommunications operator before becoming a combat engineer. He served in Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield and then entered the reserves in the early 1990s. Fifteen years passed before he decided to reenter the military at the age of 42 in 2007 as a chaplain’s assistant. His current service took him to New Jersey and Georgia in the U.S. and overseas in Korea and Afghanistan.

“Folks ask me why I do what I do. And I tell people there are two types of people in this world: there’s those that calls 911 and there are the responders. I am a responder, and I like that I respond to the nation’s call in the state of an emergency,” Gambrell said.

He likened his service to protecting America from bullies. Looking around the room, he asked past and current veterans to raise their hands to applause.

“Most importantly, we’ve got future veterans,” Gambrell said, referring to the students themselves, and led them in a training exercise where they had to follow commands to make noise, be quiet and repeat a cadence he called out.

Gambrell also participated in a military skit with 5th Graders. The skit emphasized personal responsibility, focusing on one boot camp enlistee who didn’t keep up with or respect his fellow soldiers. The 4th Grade chorus returned with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be An American,” followed by a flag-folding ceremony and “The Star Spangled Banner” sung by CHS Cadet LTC Kayla Wilson.

‘They have praise that will never die’

Burns also served as the keynote speaker at James Leroy Belk Post No. 17’s annual homage Wednesday to those who served in America’s armed forces. Hundreds gathered at the post under blue skies for the ceremony sponsored not only by Post 17, but American Legion Sanders Stoney Post No. 203, Veterans of Foreign Wars Roberts Dixon Post No. 5928, Marine Corps League Detachment No. 1146 and their affiliated auxiliaries.

The program included patriotic music by the Camden High School Band; JROTC units from Camden Military Academy, Camden High School, North Central High School and the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice’s Birchwood High School; readings of the poems “In Flanders Fields” and “No, Freedom Isn’t Free;” and a special wreath laying ceremony to honor Kershaw County Medal of Honor recipients Richmond Hobson Hilton, Donald Leroy Truesdell and John Cantey Villepigue and Civil War Confederate Veteran Richard Kirkland.

Camden Mayor Tony Scully read a proclamation honoring designating Nov. 11 as Veterans Day in the city of Camden; the city honored the American Legion in September with a similar proclamation.  

Burns, a West Point graduate and retired U.S. Army major general said holding Wednesday’s ceremony was “a fitting and solemn obligation.”

“The Legionaires, VFW, and Marine Corps League do so much for our community,” Burns said. “As Pericles said of Greek warriors of ancient Athens 2,500 years ago, ‘…they have praise that will never die and a home in the minds of men.’”

Burns said while the program listed him as a general, there is no rank among veterans -- they have all served, they have seen all, and they are not impressed by mere titles.  

Most important, he said, is the spirit embodied by the service of veterans. Burns said the sacrifices they willingly make are emblematic of what continues to make America great and the strength of this country is manifested time and again through the actions and services of veterans. 

“It is right and honorable that we gather here to commemorate our veterans,” Burns said. “Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coastguardsmen. The ‘We The People’ in our constitution, the best our country has produced, and imbued with the spirit of sacrifice and selfless service -- the very soul of this nation’s rise from wilderness to the center of the world stage, from Wateree’s rising waters and to the very stars themselves. You can still feel our sense of purpose and energy. We in this county and we in this country tend to forget how great we are how we rose to global prominence. How we rose through the sacrifice and strife personified in the lives and at terrible cost, in our veterans … they are promise keepers. They keep us safe.”

Burns said, in spite of confusing times and mixed messages, Americans, led by the example of veterans, have done more to advance the cause of freedom and human dignity than anyone else in the history of the world. He said his hope and prayer for the county and the country is to continue to honor that legacy.

“Let us take stock of our principles and in honoring our veterans, remember that there remains our faith in God, the greatness of our people, and our capacity to dream up fantastic enterprises and bring them off to the surprise of an unbelieving world,” Burns said.

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