BUCKHANNON – The special Veterans Day program Tuesday afternoon at Union Elementary School may have started off as a joint celebration of the 64 veterans related to students who attend school there.
However, by the end, it was also a tribute to one special veteran.
That veteran – former Upshur County Schools Assistant Superintendent Roy Pettit – served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
But he also spent the majority of his life serving the students of Upshur County Schools, said Mayor David McCauley, who made a surprise visit to UES to present the Buckhannon Ambassador Award – the city’s highest honor – to Pettit.
Pettit was first a teacher, then principal of Union for eight years and eventually transitioned into the role of assistant Upshur County Schools Superintendent.
Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus, also a former UES principal, called McCauley to the stage to pay a tribute to Pettit.
“Remember a school is not a building,” Stankus told the crowd packed in to the gymnasium. “A school is made up of the people who are in the building, and that’s all the people in this room and all the children who are here and all the families who will come after us, and today, we want to celebrate a very special veteran who was principal at this school.”
McCauley said that while bravery and courage are essential to serving in combat, they’re also characteristics people need to draw upon as they navigate life’s twists and turns.
“Often times, when we talk about that word ‘courage,’ we’re not just talking about ‘giving it all’ as a military veteran, but … as life goes on, others of us are required to draw upon that courage – maybe as veterans, some of those things that you learned – and Mr. Pettit, you certainly have demonstrated tremendous courage throughout your life, but especially recently.”
Pettit has been struggling with a debilitating illness, and despite having to use a wheelchair at Tuesday’s ceremony, managed to stand up to embrace McCauley as the mayor presented him the Ambassador Award. Meanwhile, his wife, Donna, couldn’t hold back her tears as she watched Pettit proudly accept the award from McCauley.
The proclamation declared that Tuesday, Nov. 13 was Roy E. Pettit Day in recognition of Pettit’s “longtime efforts, energy and dedication” and “decades of excellent service” to educating and supporting Upshur County students. A permanent placard bearing Pettit’s name will be installed on the Ambassador’s Bench by the Stockert Youth and Community Center.
Following the Veterans program, Donna Pettit said she’d known about the special tribute planned, but as for her husband? He had no idea.
During the program, Pettit, like the other 63 veterans present, had his photo taken with his granddaughter, Maddy Earnest, who smiled brightly as she put her arm around her grandfather.
Following the ceremony, Pettit said he had been blindsided by the award.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “It was a surprise. I certainly never expected this. I’ve known the mayor for a long time, and it’s been a wonderful community to raise a family in.
“It’s been the joy of my lifetime working with all these wonderful students and educators,” Pettit added.
Tuesday’s Veterans Day program honored 64 veterans and active military personnel related to UES students. It featured an array of student speakers, poetry readers and singers including kindergarteners singing “Grand Ol’ Flag,” second-graders singing “Happy Veterans Day to You” to the tune of “Happy Birthday” and a class video made by third-graders thanking veterans for their service and sacrifices.
The school chorus, under the direction of Brandon Williams, serenaded veterans with a selection of classic patriotic tunes like “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”