Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
At 95, Buel Drake was the oldest of the World War II veterans honored at Hartselle Junior High’s annual Veterans Day ceremony. Drake served with Gen. George S. Patton as a tank commander.
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Hartselle students don’t forget the vets
Junior high school honors veterans
By Deangelo McDaniel
HARTSELLE — One by one, they marched through the halls of Hartselle Junior High School.
Men and women passed teachers and students and homemade stars bearing their names.
They were old and young, black and white. Some limped. Some walked with a cane.
Most carry painful memories of battles they fought for your freedom. But, they didn’t come to tell stories about time spent in foxholes on foreign soil or about how close they came to death.
“We came for all the other men who have served and died,” said Buel Drake, 95, of Hartselle.
Drake, with the aid of a walking apparatus, stood proud as Hartselle Junior High paid tribute to veterans Thursday.
A World War II veteran who was a tank commander under Gen. George Patton, Drake was the oldest veteran to attend the program.
More than 300 veterans from every war since World War II attended. This year, the school honored the 30 WW II veterans in attendance by giving them the John Frank Parker Freedom Award.
Named in honor of the school’s former principal, the award honors those who have contributed to education in Hartselle.
“We honored them because they are dwindling and may not be around much longer,” teacher Mitsie Whitley said.
Student Council members pinned American flags on the veterans when they were presented the Parker Award.
That was a special moment for eighth-grade student Mary Roberts.
“My grandpa was a World War II veteran, and he died about two years ago,” she said. “It means a lot to give something to another veteran in his honor.”
The program that started with 90 veterans in 1996, has grown to one of the largest and most celebrated veterans’ events in the Tennessee Valley.
There was not an empty seat in the gym and virtually no space on the gym floor where students sit.
When the Hartselle Junior High Chorus sang, “America the Beautiful, people were watching with moist eyes.
Even battle-toughened old men who survived nearly unbearable conditions during World War II cried.
“It means a lot,” an emotional Drake said. “I’m always glad to see this day come.”
Like Drake, veteran E.O. Creel walked through the halls to the gym with the help of his granddaughter, Jean Littrell.
His great-grandson, William Littrell, is a student at the school.
“He wanted to come, and I’m glad to be able to bring him,” his granddaughter said. “This is a special day for him.”
Before the program, the veterans gathered in the cafeteria where students had written them letters.
Brianna Wilson’s letter summed up what many students wrote.
“I would just like to say how proud I am that you served for our country,” she wrote. “You risked your lives and stayed away from home many months. It is an honor to know that there are so many people who are willing to serve for our country.”
During the ceremony, Nich Heaven and Carly Maynard read student tributes to the veterans.
Heaven said heroes fight on battlefields and are not actors in Hollywood.
“You faced danger so we can stay safer at home,” he said.
Added Maynard: “Veterans without a doubt are some of the kindest and most selfless people on earth.”
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