Defending the United States sometimes means ignoring a fighting instinct when an enemy strikes. For most in military service, there’s none of the action and heroism of TV and movies. Still, the fact of their service drew a standing ovation and praises during Friday’s Veterans Day program by Northeastern Wayne School Corporation.

Dave Burgess attended. He retired in 2002 as an agriculture and science teacher at the high school. After taping songs and tributes during the program, he recalled perilous days in June 1971. Daniel Ellsberg had leaked military secrets to the press that came to be called the Pentagon Papers. Stationed at a command room at an air defense missile site less than 20 miles from Russian-controlled East Germany, he and another lieutenant had to keep their hands behind their backs when 18 Russian MiG jets flew over their position. Their job that day: do not hit the button that would launch American anti-aircraft missiles at the military airplanes, possibly igniting a war.

Several dozen former service members like Burgess attended a breakfast and a program of music, readings and speeches by students and Wayne County Sheriff Randy Retter. Students in kindergarten to 12th grade gave a standing ovation intended to honor veterans, some old and gray, others much younger and at least one airman still serving in the reserves. 

One veteran is Richard Powell, who played basketball at Milton High School. Two years after his graduation, he was drafted into the Army in 1963. After eight weeks in basic training, his orders sent him by mistake to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He first worked in the mess hall. He smiled, remembering, “I tried out for the post basketball team and spent the rest of my time entertaining the troops.” 

But he also became the driver for an officer whose job was procuring all of the supplies needed to run the base. Three days before they were supposed to leave for Germany, orders changed, and he finished his service at the fort in 1964. He and the officer became such good friends that they visited each other on vacations some years later. 

Under a huge American flag hung in the Northeastern High School gym, veterans and family members look on as the high school band plays in tribute to U.S. military veterans. Photo by Bob Hansen

Powell came to the program with his wife, Marsha Powell. She said her father, the late Woodrow Wilson Duffy Sr. of Milton, had been a survivor of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombing attack on the Pacific Navy that brought the U.S. into World War II.

Two veterans wearing tan camouflage — David Green and Eric Myers — directed students from Laura Van Pelt’s fifth-grade class in a flag ceremony that opened the program. She chose the students based on essays they wrote about the importance of respect for the flag and its symbolism. The group, called the Northeastern Elementary Flag Team, voluntarily raises and lowers the flags every day at that school. 

Both from Fountain City, each man said it’s important for young people to learn about why veterans are honored.

“We want to help teach the kids that we would sacrifice our lives, if needed, for our country,” said Myers, who served from 1981-85 in a Marine Corps artillery unit at Twentynine Palms, California.

Green served in the Air Force from 1987-95, working in law enforcement. He spent six months in the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Shield. 

Kelly Plank, the middle school principal, organized the program and wore an Army T-shirt under her jacket. She’s already thinking of what to include in next year’s program.

All of those honored, no matter what their duties, had given years of their life in defense of an American way of life that includes personal freedom and opportunities that people in many other countries don’t enjoy.

Upcoming veterans’ appreciation dinner

Reservations are due Nov. 17 for the free 10th annual Christmas meal on Saturday, Dec. 2. Music begins at 4 p.m., followed by the 5 p.m. meal at First Bank Kuhlman Center, 861 Salisbury Road N., Richmond. Wayne County veterans and a guest are invited. Reservations: 765-914-7367 or

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A version of this article appeared in the November 15 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.