BEEVILLE – This year’s annual celebration at the high school stadium to honor veterans, Monday morning at 11, is going to be different.
Among the veterans, the entire student body of 970 at A. C. Jones High School will be in attendance.
Instead of the ceremony—hosted by the Beeville Garden Club—being conducted outside the memorial stadium, memorial wreaths will be laid in the middle of the football field with the students sitting in the stands.
“I’m shocked,” admits emcee Victor Ramos, an assistant principal at the school and a veteran.
“They’re the ones who need it,” he says.
He has been preparing the students by posing scholastic challenges in history classes.
Ramos is in accord with the keynote speaker—one of Beeville’s own—U.S. Army Sergeant First Class George Varra.
“I’m in favor of what they do in Germany,” Varra says. “Two years of national service are required of every high school student. It teaches discipline, which a lot of kids need today.”
Varra, who is 40, enlisted in the U.S. Marines at age 19, after graduating from the high school in 1992.
“I guess, growing up, I liked all the war movies. I knew it was something I wanted to do,” he says, noting that in another two years he will retire.
He served four years before joining the Army for another four. He now serves with the Texas National Guard as a communications instructor with the 2nd Battalion 136th Regiment, Regional Training Institute, at Camp Mabry in Austin.
He has served in combat in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
When not in uniform, he works for American Tower Corps as a tower technician.
He is married to Wendy Varra; they have four children.
Varra says he is amazed at how public appreciation of veterans has changed since Vietnam.
“After 2001, I saw the change in the country. Everywhere I went, veterans suddenly were like celebrities.”
In his keynote address, he plans to give mention that service dogs now have their own monument and are receiving the honors they earned.
Another part of his address touches on an honor he received, from his 17-year-old daughter Mari, a high school student.
“Last year, she had a school assignment to talk to a veteran,” he says. “She didn’t want to talk to anyone of an older generation because she didn’t want them to have a flashback or anything.
“When she said that, I realized that I had never really shared any of my experiences with my family or my kids.”
The ceremony will include a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”
The Monday event is not the only local appreciation of veterans.
The day before, the Warriors on Wheels Cycling Club will ride through town as part of its Ride Texas 2013 event — a six-day, 500-mile fundraising trek from Wichita Falls to Corpus Christi.
The bikers are scheduled to arrive at Coastal Bend College at 4 p.m. and at the Bee County Courthouse between 4:15 and 4:30 p.m.
In addition to raising funds, the group rides to raise awareness for U.S. troops, which has never been more pressing.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that in 2010, an average of 22 veterans committed suicide every day, most over the age of 50. That’s almost one an hour.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Army reported that in 2012, the number of Army vets who committed suicide was 325 — the highest in history.
“The country should be outraged that we are allowing this tragedy to continue. The trends are headed in the wrong direction,” says Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America—a nonprofit advocacy group representing more than 200,000 members.
When the notes of “Taps” echo off of the stadium walls on Monday, it will not only be for those who fell in action, but also for those who have suffered long after their years in the service came to an end.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.