It was a morning of patriotism and stories of service Friday at Cornerstone Christian Academy as the school observed Veterans Day.
There were prayers, a presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and patriotic songs by cute preschoolers and third- through fifth-graders.
Seventh-grader Zachary Daring spoke of the spirit of sacrifice in well-delivered remarks about a man who had enlisted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“Maybe the best way to honor our veterans is to honor the cause that inspired them,” Daring told the audience. “The cause of justice, truth and freedom.”
The featured speaker was retired Army Maj. Christopher Cline. The brother-in-law of Principal Stacie O’Daniell, Cline traveled from Kentucky to share his experiences in the service and his thoughts on Veterans Day.
Cline told the audience that he’d joined the Army National Guard as a young man in 1985 in Tennessee.
“Guys, not out of any sense of honor, literally on a dare,” Cline said.
But the decisions we make as young people shape us as we grow, and Cline made that youthful decision into a career. He was commissioned as an officer in 1989, and went on to serve tours of duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Afghanistan.
From a stage draped with American flags colored with care by first-graders, Cline told of his first gunfight, while he was serving in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, when he looked at his watch and realized that as he was in combat, his children were on their way to a Disney park.
He also gave some perspective on his mission in Iraq and how he came to realize he’d been sent there by God for a reason. Cline talked about how in an effort to quell the violence, he had helped organize a meeting between leaders of the warring Sunni and Shi’a factions in a Baghdad district he patrolled.
“At the end of this meeting, which took about two hours once we got started, everyone had signed a petition saying, ‘This is how we’re going to be, this is how we’re going to act, this is what we’re going to do,’ and the group of people who had walked into separate ends of a building walked out holding hands and went out the front door,” Cline said. “And at that moment, I’m realizing, ‘God has sent me here on a purpose; he’s sent me here for a reason.’
“And from that point on, we didn’t have a lot of gunfights.”
Cline said that by the time he left, soldiers had helped people open businesses, and families and children had returned to the streets because they felt secure. Their feeling of security translated to security for the soldiers there.
“And I realized I’ve planted a seed,” he said. “Well, God has planted a seed.”
Cline said the 9/11 attacks changed the way younger people viewed Veterans Day because it made once-distant realities of war real once again. It also has brought the sacrifices of previous generations into sharper focus.
“Those who have come before us set the stage for your success, set the stage for my success,” Cline said, “because they are the example.”
• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.