Veterans and JROTC cadets gather in Rock Hill to honor the flag

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comApril 28, 2013 

— Susie Weston-Passanisi – daughter of “The Fightin’ Preacher” – said she was in her “element” on Sunday as she watched JROTC high school students, veterans and other military personnel pose together on a stage at Rock Hill High School minutes after they folded flags and marched in formation.

She’s married to a member of Fort Mill’s American Legion Post 43. She’s daughter to U.S. Army Col. Logan Weston, an ordained minister who served in three wars.

And, her father-in-law, served with her father in Merrill’s Marauders, a special U.S. operations force sent to infiltrate the Japanese-occupied Burma during World War II. Of the more than 2,700 men who marched 1,000 miles to battle the Japanese militia, they were among the group of 100 who made it back alive.

“America’s worth fighting for,” she said, adding that she feels the nation is undergoing a “resurgence” of patriotism in the face of the bombings at the Boston Marathon three weeks ago and other “turmoil that’s uncalled for.”

She wasn’t the only one to feel that way. Lucas Fields, a 17-year-old cadet with Rock Hill High School’s JROTC, said patriotism isn’t wasted on the young.

“There are people” his age “who are patriotic,” he said after moderating an hour-long event to honor veterans and the American flag. “A lot of people don’t think people have a sense of patriotism.”

Those people, he said, “are wrong.”

During the third annual Massing of the Colors ceremony at Rock Hill High, he and several other JROTC cadets from high schools in Rock Hill, York, Lewisville and Gaffney aimed to prove just how wrong those people are as they joined cadets from 26 area honor guards, who posted flags into stands, saluted fallen soldiers and prayed for those still serving.

Military anthems and melodies played over speakers as soldiers and cadets, young and old, stood and were acknowledged. Choir members with Neely’s Creek Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church sang the national anthem, “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” and the Rev. Ray Fritz, a Navy veteran, led prayers of hope and gratitude.

“The fabric of our flag is stained with the blood of men and women” who fought for freedom, he prayed. “Freedom requires eternal vigilance.”

After thanking God for the first responders, doctors and volunteers who helped the injured during the recent bombings in Boston, Fritz said, “Give us a joyous, steadfast hope for the future.”

“Freedom is not free,” said the event’s keynote speaker, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rocky Miller. After 9 / 11, “you couldn’t find an American flag,” he said. “Everybody had them.”

Twelve years later, things have changed.

“Why do we forget?” he said. “Our flag still stands for freedom. Hear the voices crying from the graves. Stand up. It’s time for everyone in this great nation to stand up...stand for something.”

America, he said, wasn’t built on government regulation or economic decisions, but on service and sacrifice.

“Let us never forget the fact that Americans have shed their blood at home and abroad,” he said.

Miller spent 31 years serving in the Army, he said. Now, he’s a member of several organizations and vice president of First Citizen Bank in Rock Hill.

But, if invited, Miller said he’d leave the podium, put on his military garb and head overseas to Afghanistan, where about 160 men and women with Rock Hill’s 178th Engineer Combat Battalion are currently deployed.

They’re expected to return home sometime within the next month.

“You young people that wear your uniform proudly, don’t let anyone make you think that wearing your uniform is not cool,” he said. “The reason they don’t think it’s cool is because they don’t have the guts to.”

Chances are, they wouldn’t be able to sway Elisabeth Streeter, a 16-year-old JROTC cadet at Lewisville High School who feels many people do not respect the military because they think it diminishes democracy.

Not so, said Streeter, who’s been in JROTC for two years but has had involvement with the program for a decade, thanks to her sister.

“I think we take our liberties and freedoms for granted,” said Ethan Brown, also 16 and also a JROTC cadet at Lewisville High.

It’s not about the uniform or taking commands, he said.

“(ROTC) really does give you good lessons about life,” he said.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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