They sacrificed their dreams

More than a hundred people came to Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, on November 11, Veterans Day, for the dedication of a memorial to the school’s war dead. It was an event that had special meaning for me.

All four honorees graduated in the mid-1960s and died in the Vietnam War. Their names are on the memorial: Gary D. Jefferis, Robert J. Nixon, Lewis R. Valentine and Nicholas L. Venditti, who was my cousin and the subject of my book Tragedy at Chu Lai

I was unable to attend the ceremony, but later John Herr of the memorial committee sent me photos, and Brian Peterman, a 1968 graduate and retired Coast Guard vice admiral, emailed me the text of his speech. It brought tears to my eyes. With his permission, I’m posting it here:

Great Valley Memorial Dedication

On this Veterans Day 2018, I’d like to start by thanking all the veterans present for your service and sacrifice. The focus of today, however, is to honor four Great Valley graduates and veterans who cannot stand with us to be honored:

Robert Nixon
Gary Jefferis
Nick Venditti
Lewis Valentine

Let’s look back in time to the early 1960s. These four men were among the first to attend the new Great Valley High School. It was a turbulent time in our nation’s history, fighting an unpopular war. The Patriot was chosen as the new school’s mascot, a square-jawed, steely-eyed Continental soldier carrying a musket and ready to go into battle. After these four men graduated, their country called them to serve and they answered that call, perhaps inspired by their high school mascot.

These patriots made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their nation, their community and to us. They never had the opportunity to make lifetime achievements that might have earned them a place as a distinguished alumnus because they died so young. But if the spirit of the Great Valley Patriot is the measure of what a distinguished alumnus should be, then these four Patriots are by far the elite of distinguished alumni.

I’d like to thank the Great Valley Foundation, the Great Valley Alumni Association, the Great Valley School District and all the people who donated their time, talent and treasure to erect this fitting memorial to the men who are most worthy of recognition as elite Patriots.

To the families of our fallen heroes, there are no words to adequately express our deep appreciation for the sacrifice you made. On behalf of a grateful nation and community, we place this monument here today so that the sacrifice made by your loved one will never be forgotten.

And to the students of Great Valley High School, this monument is also for you. It is a reminder that the freedoms you enjoy come at a great cost. These four Patriots and many other heroes have given their lives so that you can enjoy these freedoms. Cherish them and use them responsibly. These men walked the same halls of Great Valley High School as you do now, and they had the same dreams of a future of success and family. They sacrificed those dreams for you.

You use the Great Valley Patriot as a mascot to inspire enthusiasm for your sports and academic teams. I suggest you think of the Patriot as an inspiration for even more and ask yourselves how you can serve your nation and community. Come out here often and be reminded of the sacrifice made by these Great Valley Patriots and continue to honor these heroes just as we are doing today.

A man never dies until he is forgotten. That will never happen here.

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