Dr. Chad Sayre knows firsthand how not all veterans receive a proper welcome home.
During the third annual Veterans Day ceremony at Platte County High School, he decided to welcome all veterans home with a new theme. Sayre, Platte County’s principal who started the program in 2014, wanted to make sure that all of the dozens of veterans in attendance could feel a sense of appreciation for their service and sacrifice to this country.
More than 1,000 students served as a captive audience for the nearly hour-long celebration, which included instrumental performances and multiple speakers. The program started with a video thank you from selected students followed with still images of various military homecomings to set the theme of “Welcome home.”
“On behalf of Platte County High School, we thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do to ensure our freedom for our nation, our state and for Platte County,” said Sayre, the son of a two-tour veteran of the Vietnam War. “This is what a welcome home should look like. You see in the pictures I’ve shown you today what represents both the reality of deployment for these families but also celebrating that return home. That is what’s most important.
“Unfortunately, this was not the welcome some of the soldiers here that they had when they came home.”
Not all of the veterans in attendance necessarily call Platte County home.
Cameron Dorman, 25, stood during the U.S. Marines portion of the “Armed Forces Salute,” a musical tribute to each of the five branches of the armed forces the high school’s Traditions Band performed at the ceremony. He stood next to proud father Phil Dorman, Platte County High School’s activities director.
First enlisted in December of 2009, Cameron Dorman is currently on inactive duty with the Marines but hasn’t received many opportunities to feel the appreciation of a Veterans Day celebration. He took up his dad’s offer to attend Friday’s assembly and enjoyed the experience.
“It’s a great experience to hear other veterans give their input, especially the ones who are still active,” Cameron Dorman said. “Definitely a great moment. You’re taught from the beginning of boot camp that every time the ‘Marine Corps Hymn’ plays you stand at attention, and it was just great to see the older Marines that had fought in previous wars stand up and that they were also at attention, how that has continued through the life of the Marine Corps.”
Lt. Col. Candy Smith and Maj. Mike Thompkins — both of the U.S. Army — served as keynote speakers and delivered differing messages.
Smith, a guest at all three Veterans Day ceremonies the past three years at Platte County, spoke of her upcoming retirement and the potential legacy she leaves behind. She pointed to all veterans as the true sense of inspiration, noting that the collective memories tell the full story of those who serve in the military.
“I would ask all of you in the audience to do this one thing: go out of your way to thank a veteran or a fellow veteran today,” Smith said. “While you can, ask them to share their remarkable stories and learn their perspective. Let the memory of their incredible service to our country not go untold, let their selfless service be an example and inspiration to others.”
Thompkins relayed his experiences of becoming an officer at a young age and how he dealt with providing leadership to others older and more experienced. He challenged the students to think about what they would do in that scenario and think about what it means to serve.
For those considering a military career, Thompkins said to make sure they are totally committed before enlisting, otherwise look to serve the country in another capacity.
“Now you guys are more prepared than I was,” Thompkins said. “You see, the point isn’t, ‘Are you prepared to lead?’ The point is, ‘What are you willing to do? What are you willing to sacrifice?’ See, the soldier, the veteran has sacrificed a lot. The soldier, the veteran doesn’t get to choose where serving takes them.
“You have to be completely about selfless service and sacrifice often at the expense of family, freedom and body — and at times, in totality. Some sacrifice all.”
The assembly continued to provide different opportunities for the students and administration.
Casey Jumps, a senior at Platte County, attended his third Veterans Day ceremony at the school. This year’s took on a different meaning after he recently committed to continue his wrestling career at the Air Force Academy.
In June, Jumps will go away for basic training before returning to start classes and practices, but eventually, his commitment will make him a veteran some day. He understood Thompkins’ advice about being all in for his service.
“I really had to think about the service commitment, and it really gave me a new appreciation for our veterans and today, Veterans Day,” Jumps said. “I’m for sure. I’ve always really appreciated the country we live in, and I’d be proud to serve it some day.”
Sayre has created an ongoing learning opportunity for students with a chance to change each year’s ceremony to offer different perspectives. He used this year’s assembly to welcome all veterans home in an effort that clearly means a lot to him, personally.
“Today, our goal is to right a wrong, to provide each of you with a memory of how a community came together to give you a welcome home celebration worthy of your duty and our country,” Sayre said.