Ken Cox was freezing.
Wrapped in a jacket and a blanket, he could see his breath in the cold air Tuesday night as he watched his daughter, Ashley, march along the field at North Forsyth High School.
“It means a lot to her,” he said. “I do whatever I can for that girl.”
Cox was one of many proud parents who bundled up and huddled together in the stadium’s bleachers to watch their children participate in the annual Marine Corps Junior ROTC Veterans Day celebration.
The event marked both the holiday and the 238th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.
It was the largest event in the 18 years instructor Maj. Charles Kelly Jr. has been holding celebration. In addition to his 267-student corps — the Southeast’s largest — the event featured Dawson County High School’s Army unit and Gainesville High School’s Navy ROTC.
Cadets demonstrated skills with an exhibition drill performance before cutting the Marine Corps anniversary cake.
“In keeping with tradition, the oldest and youngest members of the Marine Corps family receive the first pieces [of cake],” said announcer Hilary Snook, whose husband “Gunny” is the JROTC instructor and rifle team coach.
The gesture symbolizes the “importance of youth and experience,” she said.
The cake is given first to the elder Marine as a sign of respect, then passed to the youngest cadet in a symbolic passing of knowledge and wisdom.
In addition to cake, several cadets who distinguished themselves academically were recognized and promoted. The highest honor was bestowed to Cadet Lt. Col Stephanie Grove, who received the Legion of Valor Bronze Medal by Col. Rick Husty, a naval aviator.
“[It’s] the highest award that can be bestowed upon a cadet,” Snook said. “This medal is presented in recognition of Cadet Grove’s outstanding leadership, academic achievements, school involvement and her concern for her community.”
Among those attending the event was Marine Trevor Beck. A former North Forsyth student, Beck said he came out to support his school.
For Snook, participating in the event was a way to honor her father and two grandfathers who served in the U.S. military, as well as her husband.
“Being married to a Marine, you know the birthday ceremony is a big deal and Veterans Day has always been important to us,” she said.