MTHS Holds First Ever Memorial Day Ceremony
Themes of patriotism, sacrifice, service and resiliency were shared by guest speakers at Manchester Township High School's first ever Memorial Day Observance Ceremony on May 22, 2019. Organizer Dan Staples, a teacher at MTHS and President of the Manchester Township Education Association, said the purpose of this event was to honor the memories of fallen servicemen, promote patriotism, create unity as a school community and nation, and to teach students about the importance of Memorial Day.
Juniors, seniors, staff and guests from the community attended the ceremony, which took place on the high school football field. Cadets from the school's NJROTC program, wearing their uniforms, filled a section of seats on the field while local veterans and other guest filled the other half.
Keynote speaker, Earl Granville, a veteran and member of the non-profit organization Operation Enduring Warrior, shared stories about his physical and mental recovery after losing his lower leg while serving in the National Guard in Afghanistan. He also spoke about the loss of his comrades and the passing of his twin brother, Staff Sergeant Joseph Granville, who took his own life in 2010 while still on active duty.
"Sometimes the weight gets heavy. For myself, I still have those bad days, and I think we all do. We all struggle with that once in awhile," Granville remarked. "No matter what happens in our life, no matter how heavy that weight is of adversity that holds us down and stops us from enjoying life, we still have the decision to make the right choices to better ourselves. Sometimes you have to take a step back, just for a brief minute, a brief second, and just say, 'Is this the right idea right now?'"
Granville said that as he recovered he found himself re-learning how to participate in his favorite sports again and he began competing in races and obstacle courses. He described some of these competitions, including rucksack races where you have to carry a heavy pack. He opened a rucksack he had on stage and pulled out a half cinder block with a heavy chain attached to it. He said he found it and started carrying it at races. He named it Cindy. "Yeah, Cindy the cinder block," he chuckled.
"What Cindy represents is all the heavy mental adversity that we face inside - the guilt, depression, anxiety - all the things that hold us down and stop us from enjoying life," he remarked. "Us as humans, we're resilient, we figure it out. We can push through this and move forward, carry on and not let it define who we are. But also, as humans, that weight can get a little heavy and hold us down. It can use up our resources and we don't know what to do with ourselves and without helping us carry the weight, that weight can become depression and for some people, suicide. So the idea of Cindy, when we run these races as a team, if this gets too heavy I pass it on to somebody else. We all carry that weight together because as a team that's what we're supposed to do."
"Understand, in life things are going to get heavy and we're not going to know what to do with ourselves. That's when you have to look to your left and to your right, to your teachers, your parents, to society itself, your friends, a mentor - you guys get the idea. Understand there's people out there who care about you and when that weight gets heavy, you don't have to carry it alone. Us as a community and us as a society, always carry this weight together."
Manchester Township Police Captain Todd Mallard said being asked to speak about Memorial Day made him question the true meaning of patriotism. "I thought I had a pretty good idea but decided to research it anyway. While doing so, I learned that according to Webster's, patriotism is defined as love for and devotion to one's country. After reading the definition, I determined that this overly simplistic way of defining patriotism is woefully inadequate. It turns out that patriotism is more than just love and devotion for one's country. Patriotism is a feeling that inspires us. It is a sentiment that fills our hearts with pride and optimism and it is an emotion that sometimes brings us to tears. If we look around, we'll see simple and poignant acts of patriotism every day."
VFW Post 10061 Commander Joe Whelan urged students to preserve the legacy of those who sacrificed their lives for our country and to ensure that the youth of tomorrow understand the true cost of freedom. "In meeting here today," said Whelan, "we do more than just carry on a tradition which dates back to 1866 when Memorial Day services were first conducted. We go beyond tradition, beyond remembering, and beyond mourning. Today we work together to make this country better and longstanding. So remember, those men and women gave up their todays for our tomorrows and now we must carry their message of dedication and determination to the generation in uniform today and to the generations who will serve tomorrow."
MTHS senior Andrew Dodd read his winning VFW Voice of Democracy contest essay on "Why My Vote Matters." Dodd took third place at the national level of the competition. He gave many reasons why voting is important. "But most importantly," Dodd said, "the act of voting is an act of thanks, thanks to the ones who fought and thanks to the ones who died to give you that privilege in the first place. By you voting, whether you realize it or not, you prove that those soldiers who died to give you and me that right did not die for nothing, proving to the families of those who lost everything that their son's, daughter's, husband's or wife's sacrifice was not in vain."
Perhaps the most moving part of the ceremony was a tribute and wreath presentation ceremony for the MTHS alumni who were killed in action, Ronald Kubik, Nicholas Ott, and Matthew Zegan.
Kubik's mother, Eileen Daly, spoke about her son, who lived in Manchester before moving to Brielle in his junior year. He graduated in 2006 and joined the Army in 2007, becoming a U.S. Army Sergeant and Ranger. Sgt. Ronald Kubik was killed in action in 2010 while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan, and was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his heroic actions.
MTHS teacher, Amanda Bean, spoke about her good friend Nicholas Ott, who graduated from MTHS in 2006. Cpl. Nicholas Ott died in 2011 while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and was awarded numerous medals including the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement, Combat Action Ribbon and Good Conduct Medal.
Dan Staples spoke about Matthew Zegan, who graduated from MTHS in 1991. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division. Spc. Matthew Zegan was one of 24 members of the 82nd Airborne who were killed on March 23, 1994 at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, when an F-16 crashed onto the tarmac where paratroopers were practicing. Known as the Green Ramp disaster, it was one of the largest peacetime losses by the division since WWII.
After each tribute, a red, white and blue floral wreath was ceremoniously marched to the front of the stage by an NJROTC cadet in dress uniform, who then performed a slow salute before retreating. Each presentation was accompanied by bagpipe music by Robert Solan or the playing of taps by Nadia Sosa.
The ceremony also included an address by Manchester Mayor Ken Palmer; appearances by he MTHS NJROTC color guard and drill team; performances by the MTHS chorus and band; patriotic art displays; and a fly-by and landing of a black hawk helicopter from the 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The event was sponsored by the Manchester Township Education Association through an NJEA Pride grant.
Those in attendance were clearly moved by the ceremony and many students had high praise for the event.
"The way my community came together to love and honor the men who died to protect us is a memory I will cherish forever," said Margaret Betts.
Tyler Huston said the event taught him that there is a greater meaning to Memorial Day. "Now looking deeper into it I greatly appreciate these men and women and am thankful for their great sacrifice."
Kaylia Moch said, "The ceremony was very heart moving because we heard personal stories of soldiers and what they went through, and it made me see that the military is much more than fighting."
Roger Grenier, Secretary of the Leisure Knoll Veterans Club, sent an email afterward to Staples, saying, "All of us who attended were greatly impressed with the reverence of the ceremony, particularly with regard to the school's Fallen Heroes...Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the effort you and the other members of the school community put into the preparation and presentation of yesterday's program."
Plans are to make this an annual event at the school.