If anyone wondered whether Franklin County held its veterans in high esteem, or doubted whether its high school students had the creative energy and talent to celebrate them, they can put both questions to rest.

In an exhilarating blend of live music and dance, enhanced with multi-media visuals, the school populations of the Franklin County School and Apalachicola Bay Charter School filled the high school gym on Veterans Day morning, and welcomed a countywide gathering of those who have served in the nation’s military with an inspiring tribute.

The morning opened with a hot breakfast of sausage and grits for over 100 veterans and their spouses, served up in the media center by instructor Debra Fletcher’s culinary arts students.

Outside the door, as the veterans filed towards the gym, elementary students greeted them happily with hand drawn posters and signs, signaling their enthusiasm for the program to follow.

To music provided by Karl Lester’s band students, the veterans streamed into the gym, many sporting the caps that marked their units or years of service in the military.

Following a welcome by Principal Chip Clatto, the program opened with the introduction of Mr. and Miss FCHS, Kalin Wilson and Mallorie Shiver, who would serve as the masters of ceremony.

The entire assembly rose in unison as the honor guard from Tyndall Air Force Base crisply presented the colors inside of the large open space at the front of the gym.

Following the leading of the National Anthem by Melody Hatfield, and the Pledge of Allegiance by Connor Smith, Maxwell Davis offered an invocation that set the solemn, devotional mood that enriched the ceremony. The honor guard concluded that formal portion of the morning with the flag-folding ceremony, narrated by Mr. and Miss FCHS.

The program, which once again was coordinated by media specialist Patty Creamer, then turned into rousing exuberance, as students from the ABC School and Franklin County Schools streamed in with the service banners from the various branches, to the accompaniment of the hymns of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

A video from the History Channel, outlining the history of the Veterans Day holiday, was then played on a giant screen set up the IT department in the front of the gym.

The band offered a tender rendition of America the Beautiful, followed by the reading of the poem “It is The Soldier,” by Mr. and Miss FCHS.

“It is the Soldier, not the minister who has given us freedom of religion,” reads a portion of the poem, written by Charles M. Province, U.S. Army. “It is the Soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.

“It is the Soldier, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech,” it continues. “It is the Soldier, not the lawyer Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

“It is the Soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag,” it concludes.

The program then turned to its exhilarating music and dance segment, beginning with a soft rock version of the song “Born Free,” by a band composed of Fisher Edwards. Mikalin Huckeba, William Lee, Charles Petty, Ethan Riley and Drew Robinson.

The room grew quiet as Alexis Segree narrated the Missing Man Table Ceremony, which addressed the symbolism of the table setting, set up in front of the gym in honor of prisoners of war, and those missing in action, from all of America’s wars.

The highlight that drew the greatest applause from the audience was a choreographed dance by the cheerleaders, many of them dressed in fatigues. Complete with twirling ribbons, somersaults and kicks, the cheerleaders swirled and pranced, culminating in a pyramid that unfurled an enormous American flag.

Silas Adkins recited a piece “America Why I Love Her,” as images of the nation’s majestic beauty were projected in front.

A surprise American Soldier tribute to an Apalachicola native, now serving in the Army, followed, as narrated by Sara Gibbs and William Lee. Accompanied by slides, the story of Chief Master Sergeant Lee Varnes, wife Dina and daughter Amanda was moving, recalling how the daughter, born with cystic fibrosis, had a lung transplant, and was currently receiving medical care at Duke University.

The program ten transported the audience to Motown during the Vietnam war years, as Beyla Walker, dressed in a white cocktail dress, paid tribute to the hits of Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The years of World War II were celebrated in dance by Holly Walker and Mallorie Shiver, who served up a tap routine to that era’s hit, “Choo Choo Ch-boogie.”

The student-led rock Band then played a more jamming hit “It’s My Life,” which was followed by a slide show of current men and women serving in the military. The program hit its most somber note with a slide show of the county’s war dead, accompanied by Taps played by a brass duet of Melody Hatfield and Charles Petty.

Mr. and Miss FCHS then presented plaques to the three 90-plus year old members of the Greatest Generation in the audience, with Hatfield closing with the singing of “We Thank You,” as she performed on the piano.

The veterans then streamed into the early afternoon air, secure in the knowledge that the county school children has saluted them with love and honor.