Forty-two years have done nothing to slow the patriotism of former Carroll County teacher Ruthie Griggs.
Griggs, an English and History teacher for 25 years in Carroll County, started a Veterans Day Program in 1973 at the former-Hillsville Intermediate School. On Wednesday, she was back at the same school, now Carroll County Middle, as the keynote speaker.
Griggs began the program with the help of Charles Vinson at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, when she approached former HIS Principal Charles Smythers about the idea. The program has blossomed since that first year with other Carroll County schools now holding their own Veterans Day programs. It was evident from the start of Griggs’ speech Wednesday that the program brings together two of the things she loves most.
“For all my students, I love you. And I love and salute all these veterans,” Griggs said, addressing a large group of veterans at the Assembly ranging from World War II to the ongoing War on Terrorism. “Please give a hand to all of them.”
Griggs called her speech “a history lesson” as she told of growing up during World War II. Her home used to be where Burger King now sits and she can remember watching convoys of troops roll by her house on U.S. 52 in the days before the interstate system. She remembers during World War II seeing blue stars on the windows of neighbors, meaning a loved one was fighting overseas. Later, some of those blue stars turned to gold stars, meaning a loved one lost their life in the war.
She remembers the honor rolls in front of the old Carroll County Courthouse on Main Street with the names of servicemen. Griggs told of blackouts across the country when Americans had to practice what to do in case we were bombed. With no TV in the 1940s, she recalled staying tuned to the radio to find out what was going on, even though the news was limited at that time.
Griggs remembers when Jackson’s Family Shoe Store was an old movie theater, where Hollywood movies were shown to boost morale during World War II.
“Usually they made us cry because something bad happened and we thought about all the sweethearts, the girlfriends here at home left behind,” Griggs said.
And while it paled in comparison to the sacrifices being made by servicemen overseas, she remembers the sacrifices that were made back in the States as certain items were rationed. Shoes were rationed because leather was needed for combat boots, she said. She remembers sugar being rationed and especially nylon. The ladies would wear old cotton-brown heavy pantyhose because nylon was needed for parachutes.
“But guess what? We didn’t mind,” Griggs said. “It was a sacrifice we were willing to make.”
Griggs told about how all the World War II soldiers were called “Our Boys,” and how they were so young. She remembers the churches being full of people going to pray for “our boys in the war.”
Griggs remembered how many 16- and 17-year-olds lied about their age because they wanted to join the war effort in WWII. One of those local boys, the late Hassell Vass, would go on to be Sheriff of Carroll County.
“He was 16 and he lied about his age,” Griggs said. “He said ‘It growed me up real fast.’”
Griggs said World War I saw the first plane, first tank and first poison mustard gas. It also brought about Daylight Savings Time in order to save fuel. In all, the U.S. lost more than 53,000 men in combat in the conflict, she said. And it was two World War I veterans that came back to Carroll County and started the Grover King VFW Post in Hillsville in 1935.
She said the U.S. lost about 300,000 men in World War II. She told how just five years later, the Korean War began when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, a conflict that took 33,000 more American lives.
“We are still in South Korea. Why? Because North Korea has a nuclear weapon and a lunatic in charge,” Griggs said.
The U.S. lost more than 58,000 men over 10 years in the Vietnam War, Griggs said, a conflict that still harbors deep wounds and sentiment.
“The sad thing about the Vietnam generation, these Vietnam veterans did not get celebrated on their welcome home like all these veterans of other wars,” Griggs said. “And the reason they didn’t get welcomed home or celebrated like the others, there were protests during the entire war.”
She also talked about the Cold War, Desert Storm and the current War on Terror. Griggs said she reminded students about all those conflicts because of what those veterans were fighting and dying for.
“It is to protect your freedoms. One you are celebrating now, the right to assembly,” Griggs said. “Then there is a right that just happened, the right to vote. I want you to please remember all these men when you get old enough to vote…and last, for all the veterans, all of us older generations, our hope for your generation is that you never know war.”
The assembly also featured patriotic songs by the Carroll County Middle School band and chorus. Junior ROTC Cadet LTC Matthew Maynard said the words Francis Scott Key wrote over 200 years ago still ring true about the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“We can never repay our debt of gratitude to the more than 1 million American service members who died or the 1.4 million who were wounded,” he said. “We can, however, recognize and thank the millions of veterans still alive to this day…The price of freedom is high. We cannot afford to forget those willing to pay. Today we celebrate America’s veterans for keeping this nation the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The assembly also featured a speech by Carroll Middle School 8th grader Emily Dixon, the winner of this year’s Patriot’s Pen Essay. Dixon dedicated the speech, “What Freedom Means to Me,” to all veterans.
“The dictionary definition of freedom is to have the power or right to act or speak as one wants. However, those few words are insufficient to explain the sacrifice that results in such a right,” Dixon said. “Freedom is, by no means free, but instead is a hard-earned right fought for by brave Americans throughout our history. Therefore, we are left with a legacy that demands we demonstrate the same courage to ensure freedom endures for the next generation.”
In a free society, Dixon said people will make choices that may place us at risk. For this reason, we need to have both the courage to fight for our freedoms and the courage to face the risk of potential harm in a free society where people may abuse their freedoms to do harm to others.
“In conclusion, freedom means that I have the ability to choose my own destiny without being forced to follow a set path but instead to blaze my own trail,” Dixon said. “While exercising my freedom I must have the courage to stand up for other people’s rights to chart their own courses.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]