Willie Tucker always had a smile. Cary Burnette had a great sense of humor.
Both men graduated from Waite High School. Both died within one year of each other in Vietnam.
Peter Fanning, a veteran of World War II and a former Waite teacher and coach, told students that the two men who died in combat were much like them.
"They both sat in the same seats you do now," Mr. Fanning said.
Waite held its 96th annual Memorial Day program Thursday, a school tradition to honor graduates and community members who have served in the military, particularly those who died. Since the start of World War II, 128 men who went to Waite have died while serving.
The two-hour program, held in the school's fieldhouse and conducted by Waite students and staff, included patriotic songs by the school band and choir, tributes for those who served, prayers, a 21-gun salute, and the presentation of a check for $2,000 to Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio, consisting of funds raised by the Waite community so that veterans can fly to Washington to see war memorials.
Scattered throughout the crowd were veterans dressed in military uniforms, representing more than a half-dozen American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and other veterans' groups.
Also recognized were four current Waite staff members who are veterans, along with three seniors who have enlisted to serve when they graduate.
The service didn't just memorialize veterans. Family members of Waite students Damien and Domonique Reyes -- who along with their mother and a sibling were found dead March 23 from acute carbon monoxide poisoning -- placed flowers for the pair, as did the family of Sarah Strasbourg, a work-study coordinator at Waite who died of cancer in February.
The program was to move outside to the school's memorial garden, though rain kept the event indoors, save for the 21-gun salute. Wreaths for dead and living veterans and soldiers now serving were placed instead at the center of the gymnasium.
Superintendent Jerome Pecko, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War who also has a nephew in Afghanistan, called the service a special occasion for the school and the community. "When this day comes upon you, everything comes back to life," Mr. Pecko said. "This day is bringing back a lot of memories."
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: email@example.com or 419-724-6086.