Members of the military know how important it is to have your fellow soldier’s back. During the 44th Annual Veterans Day Program at Carroll County Middle School on Friday, Grover King VFW Post 1115 Commander Marty Rivera urged students to always have their classmates’ “six.”
Rivera said when CCMS Principal Marc Quesenberry asked him to be the keynote speaker, he thought about the Hillsville post’s new motto, “My Brother’s Keeper.” He said we are taught as kids and raised to always watch out for our friends, our brothers and sisters.
“We have to take care of each other. We have to look out for each other,” Rivera said.
The VFW Post Commander then asked Marcus McGrady and Devan Leonard from the Carroll County High School JROTC program to join him for a demonstration. He asked the students to stand back to back to further his point.
“When you join the military, one of the first things they teach you is, ‘I’ve got your six. I’ve got your back.’ All those in the military know what that stands for,” Rivera said. “If something happens to our cadet right here, this other cadet is responsible. And if something happens to this cadet, this other one is responsible. That means I’ve got your back. I’ve got your six. No matter what happens, wherever this man goes, this other man follows.”
It should be no different in other walks of life, Rivera said. When one student has fallen, other students have to try to help pick him up.
“We’ve got to take care of each other. When someone is having a bad day, you’ve got your friends,” Rivera said. “If one of your friends says, ‘Guys, I’m having a bad day today,’ (we should be saying) ‘What can I do to help you out to make it a better day? This is what we’ve got to do both in life and educationally when we see one of our fellow brothers or sisters in the school and they are having a hard time in their classes, we want to help pick them up. Who wants to leave their friend behind? I don’t want to leave my friends behind.”
Rivera, who served in the Navy, pointed to fellow VFW member Mike Lara, who served in the Marines. It matters not to them that they served in different branches of the military.
“That’s my brother right there until the day I die and he can say the same thing in return to me. Whatever happens to him, I am going to take care of him,” Rivera said, before pointing out VFW members in the Army and Air Force. “No matter what happens, we’ve got each other’s back. If someone in the public says, ‘I don’t respect that person because he is military,’ my brother and my sister is going to stand up for me and say, ‘That’s my brother. You speak about him, you speak about me.’ The same goes here in return at the schools. You take care of each other. We are supposed to be unified together. As these two are standing together back to back, nothing is going to happen to that gentleman in the back because this guy is going to make sure he is protected. That is what we have to do.”
Rivera said there were a lot of veterans from Vietnam at Friday’s ceremony. He said his hat goes off to them because they fought a war they weren’t recognized for when they came home. He talked about how much respect he had for his fellow brothers that served in the Korean War as well as World War II.
“I salute them. They are not only my brothers, but they all are my mentors. They all have raised the bar and set it for me to be able to live that life as a brother’s keeper,” Rivera said. “They took care of each other when they landed on Tripoli. When they landed on the beaches of Normandy, they took care of each other. When they jumped out of helicopters they had to make sure their brother landed also. Those are my brother’s keepers. And guys, right here we are watching out for each other. You have to take care of each other and make sure that one doesn’t fall without the other. We are not here to fall. We are here to pick each other up, to watch out for each other.”
A Texas native, Rivera joined the Navy after graduating from high school and spending a short time in college. After being stationed in Norfolk, he and another friend were shipped off to Beirut, Lebanon in the early 1980s. There, they witnessed a terrible tragedy as a bombing at a Marine barracks killed a large number of U.S. servicemen.
“At 19 years old watching that barrack blow up, 250 U.S .marines were killed, 38 French Army gentlemen were killed, along with some of the Spanish ones killed that day also. It was a heartbreaking experience. But in that, we had to watch out for each other,” Rivera said. “Even though I was in the Navy, I had to make sure the remaining Marines that were left there and the French Army, even though we were from a different country, we had to take care of each other and watch out and make sure they were protected. And the same goes in return here, even though we are students here, we’ve got to also make sure that we are going to graduate together, we are going to pass that grade. You see one of your fellow students falling, make sure you pick them up and help them out. There are a lot of smart kids here. You guys have a lot to offer to this world. Teachers here are dedicated to make sure you are instructed the right way. They’ve got your back. They’ve got your six. And as I say to each one of you, you are all my brothers and sisters here, and I’ve got your six.”
CCMS Principal Marc Quesenberry urged students to not forget Rivera’s message to have each other’s back. He also praised the students for dressing in red, white and blue for the ceremony.
“Today is for you but it is about our veterans,” he said. “Today is for you to listen and pay honor to the people who have come before you to make these days possible.”
Gabe Robertson, an eighth grader at CCMS, shared his Patriot’s Pen winning essay titled, “The America I believe in.” Robertson said the America he believes in is a country invented by hope and prosperity by a unity of people striving for the perfect home for all human beings. It’s a country that is a safe haven for everybody and a refuge when times get tough.
“The America I believe in is not perfect by any means but strives to take leaps and bounds in the right direction to make the nation better than it already is,” Robertson said. “The America I believe in is made by its citizens who help maintain and who have helped create this wonderful nation. A land where people can live how they want to and all people are equal under law but yet not being governed on each detail about every unique way of life.”
A special addition to this year’s program was an original song written by CCMS ag teacher John Carpenter. The song, titled Long Overdue, was written after one of his good friends finally was able to share just a small part of his Vietnam experience.
“And honestly, the tears he shed inspired me to go home and write this song. And I found out I wasn’t writing this song just for him. He volunteered, 80 percent of Vietnam vets volunteered, and he went halfway across the world and served for our country,” Carpenter said. “When he flew back and got off the plane in California, there were people there to curse and spit at them. I thought that might be an isolated case. But when I meet all these people liking my song and sharing their stories, that was not an isolated case. So this is a memorial for our Vietnam vets. It has been 50 years and I apologize, I personally apologize that I haven’t said welcome home.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN