A morning at Evans Middle School
I was on my way to Evans Middle School the morning before Veterans Day. Several days earlier Debbie, the mother of my grandson Sam Epps, an 8th grader, called to say that Sam would like to invite me to attend Evans’ Veteran’s Day observance. I readily agreed. I had never been to such an event so I was a bit curious as to what would take place.
I arrived at Evans about 20 minutes prior to the start of the program. As I approached the gym, where the event was to be held, a young lady, whom I assumed to be a teacher, asked if I was a veteran.
“I am,” I replied.
“So glad to have you here,” she said. “This young man will escort you to a room.”
A Boy Scout in full uniform took charge and led me to a room where a number of other veterans had already been assembled. The school had provided what they called “snacks” but, in reality, was more like a full breakfast. Impressive.
Other Boy Scouts continued to escort men and women of varying ages into the room until the room was quite full. Soon, a teacher announced that the Scouts would escort us as a group to the gym.
As we approached the gym from the outside, music could be heard. As we entered, we could hear a man singing the words to the Bette Midler song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Then, as the line of veterans entered the gym, the applause began. Lots of applause. Thunderous applause that filled the gym. Applause that never seemed to end as the hundreds of middle schoolers and staff rose to their feet in recognition of the men and women on the gym floor. Even after all the veterans entered and took their seats, the applause continued.
The man next to me, a gray-haired veteran of Vietnam, looked around with wide eyes and could only exclaim, “Oh, wow!” That’s what I thought too: Oh, wow.
I don’t know how many Evans kids were in the chorus and orchestra but there were lots. So many in fact that it was pointless to try to count them. The music, patriotic and heartfelt, was inspirational and uplifting. A Junior ROTC Honor Guard presented the colors and everyone stood reverently, hands over hearts, at the playing of the National Anthem.
There were speeches, one by the principal and another by an elderly veteran, a retired colonel. All of the services were represented. A two-star general was among the veterans. Seated next or near to him were men and women of lesser ranks, some of whom likely had been drafted. All were moved by the event.
I searched the crowd and, there, up to my left, high in the bleachers, was Sam smiling proudly. When, at the end of the program, a bugler played “Taps,” some couldn’t restrain the moisture in their eyes.
When the veterans rose to be escorted out, the applause broke out again with another standing ovation. “Oh wow!” but this time it was me saying it out loud.
I thought we were finished when we left the gym but the scouts herded us back into the same room as before. There we found more refreshments and, in a few moments, another group of Evans students came in and gave each veteran a hand-written card of appreciation. I still have mine. My student wrote in his card that he, too, hoped to serve his country some day.
I didn’t know what to expect that day. To say I was surprised — even overwhelmed — would be an understatement. As one older veteran said at the end, “They get it. These kids really get it.”
I just nodded and quietly made my way to the parking lot where I sat on my Harley for a long time. It seems I had something in my eye and couldn’t see to ride.
That must have been it, because veterans don’t cry. Except sometimes.
[David Epps (USMC 1970-73, Vietnam era) is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]