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Veterans Day ceremony connects past veterans and those to come

By Staff | Nov 15, 2019

Firemen and other volunteers shoulder the oversized American flag, beginning the town's Veteran's Day ceremony on Sunday. Toni Milbourne

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The Shepherdstown Visitor’s Center hosted its second annual Veteran’s Day commemoration ceremony on Sunday at the War Memorial Building, to honor America’s veterans and to recognize those who will step into their roles in the future.

The ceremony began, as members of the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department and other volunteers from the community shouldered an oversized American flag, walking down King Street to the War Memorial Building, where the Jefferson High School JROTC cadets would start the ceremony by presenting the colors.

Mayor Jim Auxer shared his sentiments on the meaning of the day, noting that Shepherdstown has been recognized as the birthplace of the American Army, when troops gathered in 1775 at the current location of Morgan’s Grove Park, to march and fight in the Battle of Cambridge. Because of that moment in history, the town could be called the home of the first veterans of the United States.

According to U.S. Army veteran and event organizer Pam Donato, a goal for the day was to not only honor those who served to protect our freedoms, but to meet those who will carry the legacy forward.

“We are shining a light on the future,” Donato said, as the cadets of Jefferson High School’s JROTC program prepared to speak.

Cadet Benjamin Strickland addresses those gathered to honor veterans at the Veterans Day ceremony in the War Memorial Building on Sunday. Toni Milbourne

Prior to the young people speaking, their commander, Major Philip Suydam, outlined some of the accomplishments of the JROTC program, which is the largest unit in the state of West Virginia, with 260 students enrolled.

“It’s easy to think that the youth of today sit in their rooms and play video games or are on their phones,” Suydam said. “But it is simply not true.”

The cadets in his program have put in 5,000 hours of community service working at community events, road clean ups and soliciting for the high school’s Shoe and Coat Fund.

“They have raised $130,000 in the last three years to take care of underprivileged students in the school system,” Suydam said, mentioning the JROTC accounts for approximately 90 percent of the funds generated to provide more than 800 coats, gloves and shoes.

Although Suydam has sometimes asked himself if this national has seen the last “great generation,” he said he believes that previous generations asked the same through the ages.

Jefferson High School JROTC Color Guard posts the colors at the Shepherdstown Veteran's Day ceremony in the War Memorial Building on Sunday afternoon. Toni Milbourne

“Today, you will see that there are young people to follow in your footsteps,” he said addressing veterans in the room. “They will help our country remain strong and remain free.”

Each of the four cadets who then addressed the audience described the program’s influence on their lives.

“It has helped me become a leader and taught me how to carry myself. I want to make sure I help carry forward,” said four-year cadet Abigail White, mentioning she hopes to be appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy.

For Cadet Mikayla Offutt, the JROTC program has helped her to hone leadership and communication skills.

“Without ROTC, I would never have been able to stand in front of you today and speak,” Offutt laughed. “It has helped with my self-confidence.”

Donato closed the ceremony, by sharing how the young people impressed her.

“I am inspired and hopeful that we are positioned well as a country,” Donato said.