By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Students and staff at Oxford Virtual Academy met virtually Veteran’s Day to learn about the holiday and honor those who have served this country in the armed forces.
“Today we are celebrating and honoring American veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” said OVA Principal Janet Schell. “It’s a time for us to share appreciation for their selfless service. We are especially honoring veterans today who are deeply connected to our OVA families.”
Schell shared a photo of her Uncle “Scoofer,” John Brake, who served in the Navy during World War II aboard the USS Indianapolis. He was just 17 when he died in the Pacific. “Our family honors him each year for his service,” she said. “He was a special young man and loved his family.”
Many students submitted slides and descriptions of their own relatives who have served, past and present, in all branches of the military.
OVA Social Studies Teacher Gar Willoughby interviewed a veteran and former student he taught and coached at Cannon County High School in Woodbury, Tennessee. Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Franz Walkup was a fire support specialist with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne.
“My inspiration to join the military happened after my older brother Frankie was killed in action in Iraq in 2007,” Walkup said. “To help me better understand why he joined and why he left and why he didn’t come back, and to continue on his legacy is why I joined. So I ended up joining the Army just like him. I did two deployments, one to Iraq, one to Afghanistan.”
He was seriously wounded in Afghanistan on Sept. 29, 2012, when he was shot five times by Afghan National Army soldiers who turned on U.S. forces. Since then he has had over 80 surgeries. “In 2017 I ended up having my right leg amputated below the knee. And that was a decision just for quality of life and more independence. I was in a wheel chair from 2012 to 2017. I was still going to school and work, trying to make a living. After having my leg amputated it made me more mobile. I was also a lot more confident, I lost a lot of weight.”
Walkup recalled some of the highlights of his time in the service. “One of the awesome aspects of being in the military besides traveling a lot, it’s just the camaraderie you build with different people from different backgrounds from different regions, even different countries. So you have those cultural differences, and it’s always awesome how we intermingle all that stuff together.”
He also offered students advice for overcoming challenges in life. “Most of the time when you face adversity it’s going to be a high-stress situation, when you need to not look at the big picture, and kind of break it down into smaller segments that you can manage. You know, when you’re looking at the broad aspect of what you’re trying to accomplish, there’re so many micro-steps between here and then . . . It’s great to have a big plan, but break it up into small manageable chunks that you can actually accomplish.”
Walkup was medically retired from the Army in 2015. In 2016, he moved back home to Tennessee where he had an accessible home built for him by the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“Just a microcosm of all of our veterans and their sacrifice,” Willoughby said of Walkup’s inspiring story. “Some sacrifice their lives, some sacrifice their limbs, some sacrifice their time, their families just to protect us. Say thank you to a vet.”
In closing, English Teacher Michelle Green ended the meeting by sharing a quote. “As students and teachers were submitting all of these wonderful stories and pictures, the idea of legacy and the impact that each of the individuals has had on generations following them really resonated with me,” Green said. She chose this quote:
“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” – Benjamin Disraeli