GAUTIER, Miss. (WLOX) - It's a tradition that has been going strong for two decades at Gautier High School.
Every year, students and staff pull out all the stops for the annual Veterans Day breakfast to show their appreciation to those who have served to defend our country’s freedom.
Students line up at the door to thank each veteran for his or her service. They’re pinned with roses and treated to a hot breakfast. The love is clearly felt.
“I throw my chest out, it’s really nice," said Clarence Whitley, a Korean War veteran.
“These kids do an awesome job; the teachers do an awesome job. It’s really a great thing to honor the veterans in our area," said Christy Wheeler, who served as commanding officer of Naval Station Pascagoula from 1997 to 2000.
After breakfast, the crowd moves to the gym where the entire student body offers chants of support. It’s later followed by a solemn salute.
Vietnam War veteran James Fisher treasures the moment.
“It almost brings you to tears when they do that, and it’s almost like a re-welcoming, because I didn’t experience that when I came back from Vietnam, so it kind of brings tears. It’s an emotional experience," Fisher said.
It’s also an emotional experience for World War II and Korean War veteran James Suttles. The 97-year-old was presented with the United States flag for being the oldest veteran in attendance.
“Today has been great, greatest day of my life. I do appreciate it. I can’t thank the people enough for what they did for me today," Suttles said.
His great-great-grandson Timothy Suttles presented the flag. What was already a day full of meaning for the JROTC cadet is now a day he won’t ever forget.
“I just really can’t believe it happened like that. Because at the last second, it just happened. And I was giving it to him, and the smile he gave me was like amazing," said Timothy Suttles.
Former history teacher Susie Bounds started this event in 2000, and she’s amazed by how it’s grown.
“It’s a humbling experience for us at Gautier to be able to thank these men and women for what they’ve done for our country," Bounds said.
The program ends with a huge display of two words - thank you - that students can't seem to say enough to these veterans.
“These guys put their lives on the line for us. And I think the least we can do is serve them some breakfast and throw them a party, so that’s why I think it’s so important," said student Madden High.
Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court Mike Randolph and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker were the guest speakers for Friday’s events.