"It brings a tear to your eyes," said Greenwood resident Sharon Jones of the high school students’ annual Veterans Day Assembly on Monday.
Jones, there to honor her father, a World War II veteran, and her brother, a Vietnam War veteran, and support the school district from which she retired, was not alone in surreptitiously wiping away a tear or two during the hourlong program in the school’s darkened Performing Arts Center.
"I told my husband I’d cry," another woman said with a laugh.
Emma Feimster of Huntington said she attended to honor her friend and employer, guest speaker Theral Henry of Greenwood, as well as her brother buried at Cherokee Cemetery at Huntington and her oldest brother, both Korean War veterans.
Henry, now 88, quit high school to join the Marine Corps during World War II. Private First Class Henry was assigned to the Marines 3rd Battalion. In February 1945 at age 18, he fought on the island of Iwo Jima, his unit’s task being to secure the second airfield on the island, one of two built by the Japanese and capable of handling B29 airplanes, he said in a video interview shown to the hundreds of program attendees.
As soon as his unit arrived, it met opposition, but on the third day, it secured the airfield. Also on the third day, Henry said, he witnessed five fellow Marines and a Navy corpsman raise the flag on Mount Suribachi, just after recapturing the island. That iconic image shot by an Associated Press photographer now serves as the Marine Corps War Memorial at Washington.
The atomic bombs dropped on Japan on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, were pre-invasion, Henry said, and his battalion was in the first wave to arrive afterward. They anticipated 100 percent casualties, he said. Henry said he was on a bank, and his rifle jammed. The Japanese were hitting him on his chest with hand grenades, and he kicked them away as quickly as he could.
"And not a one of them went off," Henry said.
By mid-afternoon, only half of the American battalion were left standing, Henry said. He, too, was wounded. He received a Purple Heart.
"There was a lot of hardship in the World War II (fighting) that the United States was doing, and it felt like they had a purpose, and there were willing to give it all for that purpose," Henry said.
Noting that Henry completed his GED after returning to Greenwood after the war, High School Principal Jerry Efurd presented him Monday with a Greenwood High School diploma.
The hundreds of program attendees gave Henry a lengthy standing ovation.
During the program sponsored by Harris-Hannah VFW Post No. 6527, the Greenwood High School Air Force Junior ROTC and GHS Beta Club, the students presented a virtual parade videotaped at each of Greenwood’s five schools. In each school, accompanied by one of the anthems for the country’s five military branches, students dressed in patriotic colors lined the hallways, each waving American flags and cheering.
Escorted by ROTC cadets, Greenwood veterans paraded across the stage and to their seats of honor, according to decades of service: The 21st Century veterans, those serving in the 1980s and ’90s, those serving in the 1960s and ’70s, and those serving in the 1950s. Many wore their uniforms. Some used canes or wheelchairs to navigate.
ROTC cadets presented colors and held a flag-folding ceremony. The combined high school and junior high Men’s Chorus sang "Danny Boy."
Student Danielle Bridges sang the national anthem, and student Jessica Kolljeski, accompanied on the piano by student Lauren Walker, sang "American Anthem."