At a glance
* North Forsyth High School’s JROTC Veterans Day and Marine Corps anniversary event will begin at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the school’s football stadium.
* West Forsyth High School’s Honoring Our Heroes Veterans Day concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Cumming First United Methodist Church.
* Note: Both events are free and open to the public.
Maj. Charles Kelly Jr. is skilled at organizing North Forsyth High School’s annual event honoring those who served in the U.S. military.
But the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps’ annual Veterans Day event set for Tuesday will be the biggest since Kelly, a teacher at North, started organizing it 18 years ago.
His 267-student Marine Corps JROTC, the Southeast’s largest, will be marching on the field alongside other ROTC groups for the ceremony.
“We’re being joined this year by Dawson County [High School]’s Army unit and Gainesville High School’s Navy ROTC to celebrate with us,” Kelly said. “This is the first time a multi-service JROTC ceremony has been conducted.”
Veterans Day follows the Marine Corps’ 238th anniversary, which makes it extra special for Kelly and his students.
“It allows us to celebrate two patriotic days at the same time,” he said.
Kelly, who was on active duty for 23 years, said he served with “some of the greatest people around.”
“I got to stand next to heroes,” he said. “And these days and times, we’re still growing them. This generation has taken over where my generation took off.
“If you look at these young kids out there, you really can’t tell the difference between them and what I was doing 25 years ago. It’s kind of looking at yourself.”
The drills will be especially nostalgic for folks from the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars groups, who Kelly said will attend, as will parents and family members.
Kelly expects a crowd of about 1,000 and noted that all branches of the military will be honored.
“No matter what color uniform we wear, we’re all related,” he said. “The veterans, they’re my brothers and sisters. That sounds trite, but it’s not. And as you get older, it means more and more ... it’s not a burden, it’s a privilege.”
North’s event is the largest in the county, however many other schools are participating in the Veterans Day learning experience.
Their plans range from service project at Kelly Mill Elementary and a breakfast at Piney Grove Middle to a musical tribute at Big Creek Elementary and celebrations at Settles Bridge, Coal Mountain, Sawnee elementary schools.
Later in the week, Whitlow Elementary school will play host to AMP1, a team of amputee players competing against able-bodied players for charity.
West Forsyth High is taking its Veterans Day event off campus. The school’s 65-piece wind ensemble will perform “Honoring Our Heroes,” a Veterans Day concert Monday night at the Cumming First United Methodist Church to raise money for the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“I have always wanted to have a Veterans Day concert that was actually on Veterans Day and this year it all really lined up,” said band director Patrick Gallagher. “It’s a very important holiday and it’s one the students really need to understand.”
Gallagher volunteers for Bugles Across America, which plays Taps at military funerals. Having spent a lot of time with veterans, the annual observance has a deeper meaning, one he hopes to convey during the concert, which will include performances with the church’s organist.
“We’re playing a variety of patriotic numbers,” he said. “This is not a program for just West Forsyth High School friends of the band or parents of the band. We’d love for them to be there, but we’d really like for it to be a community event for anyone that would like to come out.”