With school not being in session observance of Veterans Day Wednesday, the Elkin High School JROTC took the opportunity Monday morning to hold its annual program honoring veterans and encouraging students to say thank you a veteran this week.
The program kicked off with the presentation of the colors by the JROTC color guard while the choir sang the National Anthem.
Following an explanation of why Veterans Day is celebrated and a flag-folding ceremony, the guest speaker for the day, Col. Herbert “Dusty” Sparks of Charlotte, a schoolmate of local VFW Quartermaster Sam Bishop, was introduced.
“I have four main points — one is to stay in school; be a good citizen; enjoying your friend; and the fact that reading is beneficial,” said Sparks.
But first he had a game to play with the students — the money game. To the students’ surprise, Sparks offered at first $5 for the first student who could tell him what county they were in. Another $5 went to the student who could name the governor and his party affiliation.
Then the stakes got higher. It was $10 for the person who could name the college in Chapel Hill, their nickname and team mascot. Another $10 was given for the student who could name the team in Raleigh.
When the question came up for $20, the students really perked up. And two were brought to the front to tell Sparks the name of characters in Dr. Seuss books. When he got a correct answer from both girls, he had Maj. Roy Ferguson take the $20 bill and tear it in half and give half to each student. Making things right, he got out another $20 bill and handed it to one girl and gave the other both halves.
Fifty dollars was then offered to the student who could name the third grade math teacher of Polish prime minister and concert pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski. No student knew that information, which Sparks counted on as he donated the $50 to the school’s JROTC program.
“Read, read, read is the one thing I learned in the Army,” said Sparks. “The U.S. Army uses comic books to train in preventative maintenance.”
He said he didn’t read a whole book until he got into graduate school. “The fact is you want to stay in school. I didn’t know I was going to graduate until I got the degree. With three D-, an F and an A, you don’t know,” said Sparks.
“Receiving a high school diploma is one of those things you do as a milestone in life. It opens a ton of doors and shows you can complete a long-term project,” he said. “Your faculty, they care, they are interested in your success and are people builders.”
He emphasized that no matter if you like someone or not, “remember that is a human being first.”
After “skidding” through high school, Sparks went on to N.C. State University after driving to the school and convincing them to give him a chance. He also “skidded” out of N.C. State with a 2.03, to which he noted of employers, “the higher grades they pay a lot more for.”
Upon arriving to Army training, of those in his 162-member class, 10 had doctorates, and about half had master’s degrees, so he decided when he got back from Vietnam he would go to graduate school.
The grad school admissions staff told him his GPA wasn’t high enough to admit him. “I agreed. When you are negotiating, you always want to find a point you agree on. I told them I’m willing to work for it. Will you take the revenue and give me a chance?”
He encouraged the students, after reporting he got a master’s with a 3.00, “Do more than you are asked so you don’t have to skid through. You’re going to benefit, and it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re going to learn stuff.”
On the point of being a good citizen, Sparks said, “I don’t have to tell you what’s right and wrong. I request you try to be a good citizen. You’ll make a lot of decisions in life, but if you make a decision and you’d have liked to make it another way, then make the effort to correct it.”
As far as selecting reading material, he told them to “get one well written and one that’s interesting and it flows.”
Sparks also told them to “enjoy the ride, life has a lot of ups and downs, but there are a lot more ups if you stay in school, if you are a good citizen and if you read some.”
He ended his presentation with the Toast of the Long Leaf Pine.
In appreciation for sharing his words of wisdom, JROTC instructor Maj. Roy Ferguson presented Sparks with an Elkin High School ball cap and the JROTC Coin of Excellence. Also his schoolmate, Bishop, gave him a T-shirt that read, “When the Army isn’t strong enough, go Navy.”
The JROTC presentation included a Veterans Day poem, a prayer and a slideshow presentation honoring veterans’ service.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.