Tributes, tears on Veterans Day

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Members of Cape Girardeau VFW Post 3838 listened as Central High School principal Dr. Mike Cowan thanked them for their service during Veterans Day ceremonies on Tuesday.

Wayne Edmundson grieved on Veterans Day over the death of his 19-year-old son, a Navy airman from Cape Girardeau who died of disease -- not enemy fire -- this summer.

Edmundson's son, Jeffrey, a 2002 graduate of Cape Girardeau's Central High School, died of testicular cancer on July 27 in San Diego, eight months after enlisting in the Navy.

His high school paid tribute to him and to surviving area veterans at a ceremony at the Tiger Field House that drew about 500 students, teachers, and veterans and their families.

For area veterans, it was an opportunity for pride and public applause. But to Wayne Edmundson and his family, Tuesday seemed more like a funeral.

"It's hard," he said as he clutched red roses that school officials presented to the family in honor of Jeffrey.

But on a day when the nation remembered the sacrifices of its veterans, Edmundson said his family appreciated the high school's tribute.

"It was important to me to focus on Jeff for our students," said Julia Jorgensen, high school librarian and organizer of the Veterans Day event. "Many of them knew Jeff."

Jorgensen started the Veterans Day celebration nine years ago to honor her father, a World War II veteran who died in 1998. She said 207 Cape Girardeau men have died in wars.

Few schools were marking Veterans Day when she started the tribute, Jorgensen said. Now Veterans Day ceremonies are common in area schools, she said.

At Jackson High School auditorium, there was a mixture of talent and service.

Soprano, baritone and every voice in between graced the auditorium as the school choir sang several patriotic songs, including the anthems of each individual branch of the armed forces.

Lawson Burgfield, a commander of the Naval Air Reserve who recently returned from a tour of duty in Greece, said the ceremony showed the school's character.

"I think it was just a real nice tribute, especially for a lot of the ones from World War II," he said.

Jackson's ceremony drew about 400 people, including more than 50 veterans. After the ceremony, members of the Jackson student council served the veterans coffee and breakfast snacks.

Kelly Loos, a junior, was one of the servers. "My grandpa served in World War II, so I've always been raised to give respect to veterans," she said. "Just to serve coffee and refreshments makes me feel better about myself, knowing what they did for our country."

Tuesday's tribute in Cape Girardeau included patriotic music performed by the Central High School choirs and orchestra and a slide show that recognized the contributions of America's veterans since the American Revolution.

Sam Maguire, a senior and member of the school orchestra, said he's glad the school recognized Veterans Day.

"You feel more gratitude," he said.

Ken Carter of Cape Girardeau, a 96-year-old Navy veteran of World War II, was one of about 70 veterans who attended the ceremony.

"This is great," he said from his seat on the front row. "It's a nice tribute to the boys."

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