One of their own was in the hearts of West Aurora High School students and staff Friday morning, at the school's annual Veterans Day assembly.
They paid special tribute to the late Army Spc. Christopher Patterson, Class of 2009, who was killed in Afghanistan in January while serving with the Indiana National Guard.
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During a video featuring photos of Patterson, calligraphy artist Timothy Botts drew a mural featuring Patterson's mantra: "For God, for country, for music," to be presented to Patterson's parents, Robert and Mary. Mary works at the high school.
Patterson was a music education major at Valparaiso University, and in the ROTC. When his guard unit was called up, he could have stayed behind, said Brig. Gen. Brian Copes, chief of the Indiana National Guard's Joint Staff.
"We would prefer that they not deploy," but continue officer training, he said. But there was no way Patterson was going to let his buddies go without him, Copes said. Patterson lived up to the ethos inherent in the oath soldiers take, Copes said: He was willing to lay down his life for his fellow man.
Copes then told students that with rights secured by others' sacrifices come responsibilities: "So don't dig in your heels and claim your rights if you aren't willing to take responsibility ... to pull your fair share" of contributing positively to society, he said.
Medal of Honor recipient Allen Lynch of Aurora also urged the students to take their education seriously, because of the price other people have paid for them to receive it. He mentioned the 13-year-old girl in Afghanistan who was recently shot by Taliban supporters because she had spoken out in support of educating girls. "What are you willing to do for your education?" he asked the crowd? "Kids worldwide die for it. Somebody else paid for it," particularly servicemen who put themselves in harm's way to ensure the ideals and values held by Americans were protected, he said.
Students acknowledged local veterans attending the ceremony, from a 96-year-old who served in the Navy in World War II to teachers who served in present-day conflicts. They also acknowledged students who have enlisted in the armed forces and will ship out after graduation.
Two are future Marines Niko Berrios and Rodney Cooper, both 18 and of Aurora. Berrios said he loved the ceremony. "It was amazing. It brought tears to my eyes," he said. Cooper said he joined the Marines because "I want to prove to myself and my family that I am hardworking and I earn things, instead of just taking," he said. His grandfather served in the Air Force, an uncle was in the Army, and a cousin is in the Marines.
Co-Principal Rudy Keller pointed out West High has a long tradition of military service, starting with the 297 graduates who served during World War I. A replica of the Phillips Park memorial to alumnus Army Lt. Walter Truemper was presented to his nephew, Co-Principal Ross Truemper, after a letter Walter wrote to his mother in 1943 was read. "If it is my lot to be one of those who suffer the extreme sacrifice, I will be proud to do it if our way of life will continue," wrote Walter Truemper. He died in 1944.
According to Lynch, that "way of life" "will only last so long as we have young men and women like those over here who say, 'I will serve.' "