A tradition that began 17 years ago at Gulf Middle School graced the school grounds again this year on Thursday morning to honor Veterans during a Veterans Day Observance ceremony of "Service to our Nation."
The entire student body, veterans and dignitaries of Cape Coral and Lee County gathered in front of the school with American flags surrounding them while they listened to music performed by the band, along with speeches given from various students and adults.
Principal Bill Lane said when he first arrived at the school 17 years ago teachers approached him and asked if they could hold a ceremony for the veterans, which began the annual tradition.
He began his speech by telling his students about his son. Lane said for the last 10 years he prayed that his son would not be sent to fight the war. This year, he was sent to Afghanistan to serve as a doctor at the trauma hospital.
Examples of the American spirit still being alive were shared to Lane's students from his son's experience with his travels while wearing his uniform for the first time from California to Afghanistan. He said everyone paid his way and even gave up a first class seat for him.
"We give, love, care and honor those that gave supreme sacrifices," Lane said.
His son has returned safely to the states.
Lane's speech finished with him telling his students to stay in school and make something out of themselves because they are the future.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Jim Varey, who is a Navy veteran, along with being a retired Washington police officer; Secret Service agent; deputy sergeant-at-arms for the U.S. House of Representatives and later a chief of the United States Capital Police.
He told the students that he has held many careers in his life, all of which have been rewarding.
The students went on a journey with Varey as he shared the various ways he has served his country, which began in 1960 when he joined the Navy. He told the students that being in the military were the four most important years of his life.
The Navy showed Varey the value of a good education, along with the importance of opening doors to his future.
After leaving the service in 1964 he became a police officer in Washington D.C. where he learned what life on the streets was like due to him patrolling the high crime areas. That led him to further his education.
A highlight of Varey's life was when he graduated from college in 1971 and became a special agent that same year. A memorable moment of protecting the United States president occurred on March 30, 1981 when he was protecting President Ronald Reagan.
Varey said he was leaving a hotel with President Reagan when shots were fired.
"Our training and instincts took over," he said, which ended in 33 seconds. He said they later learned that President Reagan was shot.
After taking the kids through many other impressionable moments in his career he told them that the key to their success is to become educated in the career they choose. He also challenged the students to help their community.
"Stay in school as long as you can, but don't become a professional student like my two kids," Varey said. "I wish you great success in future endeavors."
School Board Member Mary Fischer also attended the ceremony on Thursday. She told the students that Veterans Day is a day to honor the men and women who have served and lost their life, along with remaining grateful for what they have done.
"They are our heroes, and we are proud of them," Fischer said, adding that the students should salute the men and women who sacrifice their lives every day to keep us safe.
Korean War Veterans #155 of Southwest Florida President Bob Hebner attended the ceremony for the first time this year.
"It was beautiful, these kids got a good message and they did an excellent job," Hebner said.