NORTH FORSYTH -- Cohen Vail’s grandfather never talked much about his time in the Marine Corps or his two tours in Vietnam.
But at North Forsyth High School’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (MCJROTC) ceremony Thursday night, the freshman’s 70-year-old grandfather, Johnny K. Varden, presented a slice of birthday cake to North’s youngest cadet, 14-year-old Jacqueline Palmer.
It was not Palmer’s birthday, though; rather, the ceremony celebrated the Marine Corps’ 211th birthday, which was established Nov. 10, 1775.
North’s cake-cutting tradition includes the passing of the birthday cake from the oldest Marine present to the youngest cadet as part of its annual Veterans Day and Marine Corps birthday celebration.
“[North has] one of the highest regarded ROTC programs in the nation,” said Jeff Cheney, the school’s principal. “We’re constantly receiving accolades and the three instructors have the highest expectations of themselves and of the students. We certainly want to be recognized as one of the top programs in the nation, and I feel that’s what has happened here.”
The school’s JROTC program is the only one in the county and was recently selected, for the 11th consecutive year, as a National Naval Honor School.
This distinction is only bestowed upon the top 20 percent of all Naval and Marine Corps JROTC programs nationwide.
Cadet Lt. Col. Bryan Garcia, 17, was awarded the Legion of Valor Bronze Medal for superior achievement, the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual cadet within the MCJROTC.
The medals are given to those in the top 25 percent of their MCJROTC class, the top 25 percent of their school’s academic class and who have demonstrated exemplary military leadership.
Nationwide, only four will be given out this year — this is the fifth year in a row one of North’s cadets has won the award.
Garcia said though he’s honored to receive the award, he hopes more students will get involved with the school’s JROTC program.
“There are only about 200 people in ROTC and the whole school is about 2,000 people, so it’s maybe 10 percent,” he said. “I hope it gets bigger; I really want other kids to learn what I’ve learned and become great leaders and hopefully one day contribute to our country.”
The ceremony recognized six members of North’s graduating class who will do just that, having enlisted in various branches of the military.
Five veterans who attended the evening’s event were also honored.
“I’m very proud of the young men and women who represented the JROTC program from all the service branches,” Cheney said. “We’ve been doing this for a very long time here at the school, and it’s a very important event annually, on the eve of Veterans Day, to celebrate the [Marine Corps’] birthday.
“What a great night to be an American and to respect our armed service men and women throughout the country and here at the school.”