Sussex Tech honors veterans

GEORGETOWN — Greenwood-area resident William Adkins served with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War.

Ben Chaffinch of Seaford was aboard a Navy guided missile destroyer during Vietnam.
They are among the nine million plus Americans who served active duty in that conflict.

Friday morning, they, along with other veterans and family members, comprised the guests of honor platoon for Sussex Technical High School’s schoolwide salute to veterans.

“Many times, we take freedom for granted,” said Sussex Tech Principal Dr. John Demby. “So, today put the pause button on … we stop and say, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for volunteering. Thank you for loving your country. Thank you for your patriotism. Thank you for all that you have done.”

The Ravens Nest gymnasium was packed for the assembly before an audience that included the entire student body, staff, invited elected officials and of course about 35 veterans and family, many with connections to Sussex Tech.

Sussex Tech Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said the reason for holding the assembly — Sussex Tech is closed Veterans Day, so it was held in advance — is two-fold.

“One, and certainly first, is to honor the veterans and recognize the services and sacrifices they have made,” said Mr. Guthrie. “The second is, to show our students the reverence we should pay to our veterans and to show them how important honoring veterans is to them and to our school We want to instill that in the younger generation so that it can continue, and not just let days like this pass by.”

Mr. Adkins, who served 14 months in Vietnam in a heavy weapons division, offered his take on Veterans Day. “To me, it’s thanking somebody for saving us from being overrun by somebody we don’t want to be overrun by,” he said.

Veterans Day stirs memories, Mr. Chaffinch said.
“I think one of the main things when I think about Veterans Day is, I wonder about where my old buddies are. I kind of think about them, how they have ended up, or gone on,” said Mr. Chaffinch. “My grandfather was in World War II. My dad was in World War II. I served in Vietnam. And I think about all of them, and some of the stories that they told me.”

“I wonder about how guys who were sitting right next to one an another, one gets killed and one comes home. What is that guy that comes home thinking about all the time,” said Mr. Chaffinch, who makes it ritual to attend events on Veterans Day. “I try to attend a ceremony, wherever they have one. Most of the time it is in Seaford.”

Nayelis Gonzalez Sanchez, who holds the rank of lieutenant colonel with Sussex Tech’s Army JROTC program, asked that fellow students please pay attention.

Saluting the veterans.

“Please listen. It is undeniable that without our soldiers continuously fighting 24/7, 365 days a year, our freedoms, our liberties … we wouldn’t be the great nation that we are today,” Nayelis said.

She noted the difference between Memorial Day, which recognizes those who died while serving, and Veterans Day, which celebrates all military members who served or are currently serving.

“It is important to remember not just those who died but also those who lived,” Nayelis said.

Keynote speaker Master Sgt. (Ret.) Larence Kirby, Executive Director for the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, said family of veterans should not be forgotten, noting their sacrifice. “Family members are a viable and very important part of the veteran experience,” he said.
“Being a veteran the key thing for me is that of our colors,” said Master Sgt. Kirby.

He told the audience of growing up in a rowhouse in an urban area, and watching with curiosity as his father, a Korean War veteran, would raise the American flag in front of their home on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

“I didn’t really understand it because nobody else in our neighborhood did that,” Master Sgt. Kirby said. “Hey pop, ‘What’s up with the flag?’ My pop kind of looked at me and said, ‘You know son, I went to Korea … I did my thing for our nation and I was able to come back home. You need to understand that these colors represent our nation.’”

Master Sgt. Kirby, who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions in Afghanistan, selfishly identified hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan conflict casualties through dental X-rays at Dover’s Air Force Port Mortuary.
He told of his burial duty, noting caskets shrouded in red, white and blue.

“It would be my responsibility to take those colors and hand them to a bereaved family member and thank them for that debt of service,” Master Sgt. Kirby said.
Nayelis, in her address, focused on key traits of veterans: duty, selfless service and what she labeled her favorite, personal courage.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but the idea of going to war scares the living daylights out of me. And yet 18.2 million veterans, including those of you right in front of me, faced that … so my fellow students and I wouldn’t have to,” said Nayelis.

In closing, Nayelis encouraged students to wear red, white and blue, attend a parade or place a flag on the grave at a veterans’ cemetery. “At least be respectful,” she said. “At the very least acknowledge the great sacrifice our veterans made for us.”

Mr. Chaffinch reflected on his service during Vietnam.
“We generally worked with the carrier, USS Hancock. I sat out many, many nights on deck and watch the (battleship USS) Jersey lob her 16-inch shells into land, supporting the guys. That was kind of a sight to see. It looked like a thunderstorm,” Mr. Chaffinch said.

“On board ship, that was an easy job. I didn’t have to worry about the shooting. To tell you the truth, I honestly would think many a times about all those guys in there fighting on land. I thought I was on a cruise. I had clean sheets every day; three square meals a day.

“Then I think about these other guys and how they were sleeping in the mud. I feel like had a pretty good duty. I was lucky.”
Master Sgt. Kirby reminded veterans span all wars, encompassing both genders – male and female. All, he said, raised their right hand to defend America and its colors.

“You may have your image of what a veteran is, but I think of veterans as ‘92 to 22.’ What am I talking about? There are 92-year-old World War II veterans. We have those in between, the Korean Conflict veteran, our Vietnam veterans and our Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans,” Master Sgt. Kirby said. “So, bottom line, it’s all about the colors. It’s all about raising the right hand … to defend our nation. And it’s all about integrity.”

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