Moffat County High School pays tribute to area veterans
Craig — For some who have served in combat, the nightmares of the battlefield are memories that never will leave them. For others, fighting enemy troops is a cakewalk compared to the return home to an American public that wants nothing to do with you.
No such sentiment was present Monday morning in the Moffat County High School auditorium.
MCHS’s Veterans Day assembly was a huge success, as the school’s staff and student body, as well as Craig community members, took the time to acknowledge the local members of the military, whether they were there in body or in spirit.
Principal Thom Schnellinger welcomed all vets past, present and future, noting those in the crowd currently weighing the options of enlisting.
“I know a lot of people will have some tough decisions coming up,” he said.
The students of band teacher John Bolton kicked off the event with patriotic selections, including “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Army Goes Rolling Along” and of course, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The revelry quickly changed to hushed tones as the audience settled in to view “Taking Chance,” the story of former Craig resident Chance Phelps, a United States Marine killed in action in Iraq in 2004. The 2009 film focuses on Lt. Col. Michael Strobl — played by Kevin Bacon — as he escorts the body of Phelps to his family in Dubois, Wyo., experiencing a significant emotional journey in the process.
MCHS junior Jacob Prescott said knowing that the movie was based on someone who once had walked the halls of his own school really made him stop and think.
“I’ve never seen a movie like that before,” he said.
Later, following the school choir’s rendition of “America the Beautiful,” came a panel for veterans in the crowd to speak about their time in the armed forces.
Guy Bradshaw, who spent much of his Army career in Iraq, referred to “Taking Chance” as a difficult watch for him because of several close calls in the Middle East from which he was able to walk away unscathed, while Phelps was not so fortunate.
“It kind of rattled my cage, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Bradshaw said. “I never lost a soldier of mine in combat because I was lucky, but you will carry that sense of guilt the rest of your life, and some of it is not knowing if you did a good enough job so that nobody else would have to go over and finish it.”
As well as speaking about what inspired them to join the tradition of the American military and their positive times while serving, several veterans in attendance reminisced about their homecomings, which in some cases were not pleasant.
Johnny Garcia, chaplain for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, remembered being pelted with a water balloon full of urine when returning from Vietnam, thrown at him by a vehement antiwar protester.
“I saw a group of hippies that I thought was a welcoming committee, but they were going to do bodily harm to us,” he said.
The veterans in attendance also gave their own show, including a demonstration of the proper flag-folding ceremony with a step-by-step explanation of the symbolism involved, as well as a brief history lesson about the Battlefield — or Soldier’s — Cross, a way to honor those slain in the line of duty.
The vets also raised the stars and stripes on the MCHS football field, with an Honor Guard providing a 21-gun salute.
“The sign of a good commander is to always put his best people out front, and I think they did a wonderful job today,” said Mark Wick, VFW post commander.
The populace of MCHS was quick to applaud for the guests of honor, and the feeling was mutual.
“They put on a great show for us, and this was really a great privilege,” Garcia said. “These kids are really reverent.”
Teacher Liane Davis-Kling said the response to a slideshow of MCHS alumni and faculty members who have served in the military — an ongoing project open to submissions — always is enthusiastic.
“The students have a lot of respect for them,” she said.
Although official dates of honor for vets are few and far between on the calendar, remembering them is something an American should do any day of the year, Prescott said.
“You should always keep them in your heart,” he said.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.