“Everyone is familiar with Independence Day, but sometimes we take our freedom for granted and forget those who made our freedom possible,” said a CHS student. “… I respect and thank all of these individuals who have served our country.”
The program opened with the pledge of allegiance. Students, faculty members, and honored guests listened to a medley of patriotic songs by the school’s Silhouettes, Harmonia, and Renaissance choirs.
Decorated Vietnam veteran LaVoy Jones was the guest speaker. Jones was introduced as being one of the most decorated veterans in Bradley County. He was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart, Combat Medic badge, Army Commendation Medal, and three medals for making 115 air drops under incoming fire.
Jones set the scene for the students.
“I am going to take you back in time, so get ready for a rewind to 1968. Nixon was president. There was Woodstock, the Commodores, and Elvis. The Beverly Hillbillies was No. 1 on T.V.,” Jones said. “In 1968, I was at Lee University finishing up my last semester when I got [drafted].”
He was not altogether pleased with the news.
“This was the first war on television. Every night, we would get reports of the casualties and so on, of the war,” Jones said. “I had never been camping or anything. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to join the Army.”
Students were treated to honest memories of the Vietnam War.
“I was sitting in the truck thinking Vietnam was not all that bad. … All at once, the truck drove over a mine. It got blown up in the air,” Jones said. “Fortunately, I was on some laundry bags that I know saved my life.”
Second thoughts began popping into Jones’ head. Before the night was over, he realized he was in the right place. Jones believed God had him there for a reason. He had a peaceful feeling everything was going to be OK.
“In fact, for the next 365 days, I never had a day off. I never received a cold or even a rash,” Jones said.
His first real combat operation occurred when a platoon became surrounded by the Viet Cong. An airborne unit was sent to get the troops out of trouble.
“… I looked up, and I know you won’t believe this, but I was all alone. The other guys had already hit the ground running. I kept looking around and I could not see anybody.”
In the middle of the night, Jones could not tell which way east was. Unbeknownst to him, he went west — right through enemy lines.
“I got to their [U.S.] camp and heard the ‘Who goes there?!’ call. I said, ‘This is LaVoy Jones. Who are you?’ They took me to the captain of the platoon and he said, ‘Who the blankety-blank are you and who the blankety-blank are you here for?’” Jones said. “I told him, ‘I’m here to rescue you.’”
Jones ended on a more serious note.
“I just want to say, I feel humbled to be next to World War II veterans. They were the greatest generation of all time,” Jones said. “I think a way you can honor your veterans is to take advantage of the freedom they fought for. All of the freedoms you have are because of the people sitting in front of me right now.”
“I am so optimistic, looking around now, that this is the next great generation,” Jones finished.
A group of high school students unfurled a large flag in the middle of the gym floor. The names of veterans, both present and absent, were read aloud. As their names were called out, the veterans joined the students around the flag.
Kevin Brooks, state representative, addressed the assembled students and veterans.
“What a great opportunity to honor our veterans. Thank you to the men and women who have protected our country and freedom,” Brooks said. “Although Veterans Day is declared just once a year, I would encourage students to recognize veterans throughout the year.”