By Marsha M. Brown
We have a lot to be proud of always…we are Americans! We live and work in this great and beautiful County of Dare where approximately 4,400 veterans live, raise their families and worship beside us and…we are blessed because of that. Literally thousands of heroes are in our midst at every turn. They are our husbands, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends.
Over the past few years’ organizations, businesses and individuals across the Outer Banks have administered a ‘shot in the arm’ boost to our veterans by implementing unique ways in which to celebrate them. More activities are planned and executed during Veteran’s Day weekend (and the following week) and even this coming Memorial Day weekend than ever before, so much so that its almost hard to choose which event to attend. And…when you’re enthusiastic about veteran support, you don’t want to miss a single chance to clap, whistle and wave your American flag as they are acknowledged.
And…not only have adults jumped on the bandwagon but also our kids too especially over the last few months…expressing their pride in our veterans. You see, during a meeting of the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council last fall a discussion ensued about ways in which the Council could promote our veterans, one of the members, Gary Kierney, a U. S. Coast Guard veteran (whose son Noah currently serves in the U. S. Army), and a long standing Dare County Sheriff’s Department Deputy (Hatteras Island), came up with a fantastic suggestion for a float idea for the Town of Manteo Christmas Parade. His idea? To invite our high school(s) art classes to participate in a friendly competition and create artwork to embellish a Dare County Veterans Advisory Council ‘float’ to enter in the December parade. After further discussion, there were two stipulations: the Council agreed to provide the necessary art supplies (paints and a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood for each branch) and to keep anonymous which school created which artwork for which branch until the January 2016 Council meeting at which time a First Place Winner would be selected.
Everybody unanimously agreed it was a super idea and that involving our young people in the process would not only mean a lot to our veterans of all ages who attend the anticipated Christmas Parade but perhaps in doing so inspire our youth to consider the opportunities and benefits afforded them through military service.
Following the meeting that day, Gary enthusiastically pursued commitments from the art class teachers and with overwhelming support the plan solidified. From that point forward, Gary spent countless hours off duty contacting our high school art departments and setting the plan in motion. And from the expressed interest of Cape Hatteras Secondary School, First Flight High School and Manteo High School, the kids went into action putting their best foot forward and each creating their service branch rendition on a sheet of plywood; their ‘masterpiece’ was to be of their own design ideas.
Move forward to December. Thanks to the goodness of a local veteran/business owner, a 16’ open utility trailer was loaned to the Veterans Advisory Council for the purpose of erecting/displaying each branch ‘sign’. With the help from builder and devoted veteran supporter, Brian Schneider, the trailer was prepped and readied to participate in the parade. If you were a by-stander on the Parade route in downtown Manteo that day, you saw AWESOME artwork! Oh my goodness! The colors were vibrant and embodied the essence of each branch to a tee!
Our five Armed Forces were represented beautifully! Their designs were clever, articulate and each expressed adequately the core of our American military spirit. Each school exceeded expectations without question – what a fantastic job! Each art teacher and art student should be very proud! It was a great day! The Council members were proud…Gary, who had originated the idea, executed it to perfection and initiated a unified interest amongst our youth to do something so meaningful for our veterans was carried out without a flaw. Needless to say, Gary was as proud as a new Papa! Besides that, he remained true to his promise – to solicit interest among the art classes but not to divulge to fellow Council members which school would enter which artwork. He wanted to be completely fair, not vocalize his personal opinion or influence in any way the remaining Council members. He held true to his word.
Then, at the January 2016 Council meeting, Gary provided pictures of each submission to everyone for a vote (again, without divulging their origin) and after deliberation and careful consideration because all of the work was so good, members voted on a First Place Winner…it was the artwork that represented the U. S. Army submitted by the art students of Manteo High School! CONGRATULATIONS and THANK YOU ALL! And good job Gary!
When all was said and done several monumental things had taken place. The Council had committed to represent our veterans in the Parade/event annually; a Council member had involved & inspired our youth; the public was privy to the outstanding work of each of our art student/classes from three Dare County high schools celebrated individually and collectively and you know what else? Each class was a winner – reason being that each of these creative works of genius will be seen at future events all over Dare County and at various times during the year. Each time they are displayed…our veterans will smile with pride because their branch will be represented in a unique way; our youth will be proud to see their work displayed…and our seven Council members will forever be grateful that our art departments took on the challenge willingly, enthusiastically and with such good care.
Our youth is our military future. They are who we will depend on to wear the uniform of our military; leave the comforts of home; leave those they love the most and sign on the dotted line. It is up to us to inspire them to serve our nation and it is up to us to do all we can politically and spiritually to hold them up, hold them dear, show them unyielding support and respect and to hold the leaders and law makers of our land accountable if they fail to do all they can to protect them and provide them everything they need to protect themselves, each other and those they fight for and defend.
From this point forward…I ask that you look closely at each candidate who will seek election or re-election in the months ahead and learn their views when it comes to our veterans…both past…present and future. Get involved now to show our faith in our military…show our determination to stand behind and beside our armed forces and to allow our troops and those who lead them to do what is required to eliminate those who threatened our freedoms, our democracy and our American way of life. It is our responsibility to research to the fullest, learn where our candidates stand when it comes to our veterans…to offer and extend our veterans our full support not only on holidays but EVERY day…during and following their service and to not accept excuses for failing our men and women who put their lives, limbs and health on the line every day.
God bless our troops who serve today at home and abroad…God bless those who have served so valiantly and who often times struggle with the seen and unforeseen effects of brave and unwavering military service…and God bless our young people everywhere…because they will be the ones who will (as my friend Gary Felder says…) pick up the flag and carry it.
Until next time…be safe, be happy and always and f-o-r-e-v-e-r be proud! Stay tuned.