The R. Marion Craig Coliseum fell silent yesterday as retired Army Maj. Cleo Hogan stepped up to the podium.
“It is always an honor for me to be with you here on Veterans Day,” he said to the crowd. “Veterans Day is a very special day that we set aside each year to honor all those who have served in the armed forces of our nation during peacetime and war.”
His speech honored Staff Sgt. Clifford Chester Sims, a Medal of Honor recipient from Port St. Joe who gave his life to save Hogan and his troops during the Vietnam War.
“I remember very well that cold and dark February afternoon,” he said. “All of a sudden, an enemy soldier appeared to our crop and launched a hand grenade.”
“Sims initially yelled ‘get back! Get back!’ in an effort to warn his fellow men. And then, without hesitation, he threw himself upon that grenade, absorbing the full blast with his body. There is no greater sacrifice a man makes than to lay down his own life to save the lives of others.”
The entire student body was in attendance, along with many members of the public and several veterans, who sat in rows flanking the podium. Hogan’s story brought many to tears.
After the retired major’s standing ovation, the program continued to feature the reading of names of those lost in battle, a poetry reading, a performance of “Proud to be an American” by the sixth-grade choir and a demonstration of the Port St. Joe High School JROTC’s marching abilities.
Gulf District Schools Superintendent Jim Norton closed the program by thanking Hogan and all those in attendance for their service.
In Wewahitchka, students displayed patriotic artwork celebrating the sacrifices made by the United States’ armed forces. Dancers performed a shadow dance, silhouetted by a light behind a white sheet.
Lana Harrison, a teacher at Wewahitchka High School who helped coordinate the program, said the turnout was one of the highest she had ever seen. She estimated that more than 50 veterans were in attendance.
“It was fantastic. This was my first year helping organize it, so I’m very happy with how it went,” Harrison said. “And maybe we can continue to grow it every year now.”