Navy’s Birthday Brings Out Giants

Once again the Navy JROTC department put on an amazing Birthday Ball to celebrate their service turning a spry 243 years old since its inception in 1775.  A magical transformation of the Galbreath Gymnasium took place, giving it the appearance of a formal ballroom.  Numerous old warriors gathered to celebrate, surrounded by youngsters whose futures are destined to equal them.  Indeed, the evening was far more than entertainment – it was a historical gift for those in attendance.

Guests were impressed by the award-winning talents of the choir and band, which provided beautiful entertainment throughout the evening.  The Cadets displayed stunning discipline, standing alert through most of the evening, conscious that they were being watched by a previous generation of heroes.  One could not help but stand just a bit taller in the presence of such dedication.

Representative Dewayne Burns began the evening humbly recounting his father’s willingness to serve our country his entire life.

“I’m so proud of this organization,” Burns said of NJROTC. “Most of all, I’m proud to be living in the best state in the greatest country in the world. God bless America.”

After Rep. Burns comments, a sword detail was posted and honors were played for four very distinguished guests:  Vice Admiral David Robinson (Navy Cross), Major Dick Agnew (Distinguished Service Cross), Mr. Clint Bruce (Navy SEAL), and Mr. Don Graves (Iwo Jima veteran).  Trumpets sounded three ‘Ruffles and Flourishes’ for the three stars worn by the senior man, Admiral Robinson.

Robinson and Agnew attended the event on behalf of the Legion of Valor, an organization comprised of our nation’s remaining Medal of Honor and Service Cross recipients.  They were there to present the Legion’s Bronze Cross of Achievement to Joshua NJROTC Commanding Officer, Cadet Luke Boyce.  Only 50 of these medals are awarded nationally each year.

After the award ceremony, a cake cutting ceremony was performed.  In Navy units around the world, the Commanding Officer uses a sword to cut the cake.  The first pieces are given to the Guests of Honor.  The next piece of cake is given to the oldest sailor, who takes a bite and passes it to the youngest sailor, symbolizing the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next.

This year’s cake was created by Joshua Culinary Arts and was adorned with a model depicting the Marine’s famous flag raising on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Guest speaker, Mr. Clint Bruce, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 and went on to play football for the Baltimore Ravens.  A few years later, he accepted an officer’s commission and served with the Navy’s elite SEAL teams in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa.  With his impressive resume of military service, Bruce gave a heartfelt speech ending in a standing ovation, following a video telling the life story of Navy SEAL Rob “Bobby” Reeves who sacrificed all in the name of freedom for our country.

“You know, I heard it was magnificent,” Bruce said of our Navy ball. “I thought it would be sincere, but I have to tell you: The last few minutes have been amazing.”

Those last few minutes were only the beginning of a beautiful, respectful and reverent evening.

Bruce discussed the question, “Was it worth it?” when sharing about the work and lives lost in combat, including that of his good friend Bobby Reeves.  Bruce conclusively decided all service members would say it is indeed worth it all.

“I can tell you in Joshua, Texas,” Bruce concluded his speech. “A town that will not let it be forgotten, it was very much worth it.  You will find meaning in the legacy of the men and women in the room with us.  You find meaning in the legacy of those following behind us.  Hold fast, stay true.”

During the intermission, dinner was catered by Fresco’s and videos were played to educate the 800 in attendance on the Battle of Iwo Jima.  The FFA students gave a rousing speech on the importance of service and courage.  They were followed by a near flawless demonstration by Joshua Armed Drill Team, which received yet another standing ovation.

Then the audience was introduced to one final speaker.  Don Graves is the witty 93 year old survivor of Iwo Jima.

“You young people, you have too much and it’s your parents’ fault,” Graves began his talk.

“When we grew up, all we had was what was on our backs. People shared back then, people had respect for funerals, [and] every day we stood around the flag pole and recited the pledge of allegiance and were proud to do it.”

Graves gave an impression of President F.D. Roosevelt, which received with great laughter by from the crowd. He went on expressing very fond memories of the Marine Corps and “of their cousins The Navy.”

“We did not know where we were going,” Graves said of his deployment to Iwo Jima. “We never heard the name Iwo Jima until one day out from Iwo Jima. Then, [the officers] made a clay model of the island and told us what was going to happen and what we were going to do. Then, they fed us steak and eggs.”

Graves recounted the death and destruction of his comrades.  Graves served as a flame-thrower and only 18 from his Company survived the battle.  He too pondered the question, “Was it worth it?”

“The greatest generation left school to go off to war,” Graves said.  “We all said, ‘You bet it was worth it.’ We saved 29,000 airmen and shortened the war.”

Mr. Graves was present when the flag was raised on Mt. Suribachi.

Graves ended his speech the evening inviting all guests to sing God Bless America.

Suddenly, the audience was transported back to the 1940’s, as the Joshua Jazz Band played a Glenn Miller hit.  The Joshua Dance Team Sweethearts danced a number with several cadets.  Apparently dissatisfied with how the teenaged Cadets performed, they invited the 93-year-old Iwo Jima veteran to the dance floor to show them how it is supposed to be done.  As Mr. Graves and his partner danced, the dance floor began to fill with all of the old veterans present.

The night of the Navy Birthday Ball is always an evening to remember; it whispers of excitement and leaves a resounding echo of greatness every year.  Assuredly, every guest left amazed by the talent of JHS students and ready for next year’s ball.