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Batavia High School brings out the red, white and blue for veterans

By Joanne Beck

Harold McJury’s four grandchildren ran over to him after an assembly Thursday in Batavia High School’s auditorium.

He had been one of the guests of honor during a Veterans Day ceremony.

“It’s so fun, I get to see my grandpa at school,” granddaughter Lucy Taggart said, just moments after playing the solemn “Taps” on trumpet. “And celebrate him.”

It wasn’t the first such ceremony for McJury, he said, but he liked that this one included students.

“The first thing that goes through my mind is that it's wonderful to have the high school do something like this for the veterans because that helps young people to understand what a veteran is. And then they go on, and maybe they'll be in the service, maybe they won't, but a few of them probably will, so they understand the importance of serving our country,” he said. “And, as far as myself goes, I was very fortunate because I went into service during Vietnam, and I always felt it was my duty to do that. So I figured the best place to be, and would be in the Navy. The Navy is a good place. To be in all the services are good, but I always thought the Navy was something special.”

McJury, a Batavia native, served in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1973. The 72-year-old liked submarines and wanted to be stationed on one “since I was a little boy,” he said. He was part of the Submarine Service with the USS Lafayette, which was christened by then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in May 1962.

Married 52 years to his wife Donna, they even had a Christmas dinner on a sub around 1972. Their granddaughter isn’t the only musical one in the family, as all of them are involved in band, and grandpa plays trumpet as well.

He plays for events at the National Cemetery in Corfu and has years of experience.

“So I've played trumpet all my life as well. They're all playing something,” he said. “I feel that being a veteran, and defending our country, is a very important thing. And I do still feel that to this day, there should be a time between high school and college that you serve a year or so. You know, you don't have to stay, you just go for a year. It sort of solidifies all that stuff.”

Thursday’s ceremony included a band medley of various popular and patriotic tunes; vocal solos for “The Star-Spangled Banner” by student Abigail Hoerbelt and “God Bless America” by student Clara Wood; a strings performance of signature military songs, prompting branch members to stand when their song was played; and a message from keynote speaker Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

"There are never enough words to fully express our appreciation and gratitude, gratitude for the sacrifice the veterans have made for our nation,” Hawley said. “Their courage and determination are a true testament to the American spirit and embodiment of freedom and celebration of what our nation stands for.”

A veteran himself, Hawley’s family also served, including his late father R. Stephen Hawley,  who served in Burma during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star as part of Merrill’s Marauders. Hawley’s uncle also served during World War II, and was awarded a Purple Heart for the wounds he received during the war.

Hawley talked about “one of the crowning pieces of legislation that I've sponsored, that got signed into law,” referring to the Gold Star Families bill that provides free college tuition for Gold Star families who have lost a loved one during military service.

“As we gather here today to honor our heroes, please know we can never say thank you enough for the service of our veterans, to our country. Please, today take a moment to reflect on what it means to live in America, and the sacrifices our veterans have made to keep us safe and free,” he said. “And please thank them for their service when you see them 365 days a year. God bless America. Happy Veterans Day everybody.”

Top Photo: Batavia High School student Lucy Taggart plays "Taps" for the finale of a Veterans Day assembly Thursday at the Frank E. Owen Auditorium; High school Principal Paul Kesler talks about the veterans, including Lucy's grandpa Harold McJury, second from left, and their service; students perform patriotic songs in a strings section, concert band (not pictured) and chorus; keynote speaker Assemblyman Steve Hawley offers a thankful message to veterans; Kesler and members Michael Marchese and Matt Doeringer of Boy Scouts Troop 6 serve as the color guard. Photos by Joanne Beck.

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