By Sherrie Norris
The annual Veterans Day Celebration at Green Valley School on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 9, once again honored local veterans for their military service, in addition to paying tribute to former student and local hero, Harold Dean Beach, who died in Vietnam.
In attendance for the impressive ceremony were veterans and their family members, the school’s student body, faculty and staff and members of Beach’s family.
The traditional processional of veterans from the front entrance to the gymnasium, always a highlight of the day, saw students lining the hallways, waving American flags and greeting the men and women as they passed.
Once assembled in the gym, Watauga High School JROTC presented (and posted) the colors, with the Pledge of Allegiance led by student Nathaniel Walker, followed by “Star Spangled Banner, by the Green Valley Middle School Band. “America the Beautiful” was later sung by the Green Valley Middle School Chorus.
On behalf of the school, principal Gordon Prince, welcomed everyone, especially the veterans, and acknowledged the dedication of his faculty and staff responsible for coordinating the event each year.
Among those, school counselor, Sandra Ruppert, along with kindergarten teacher, Heather Ward, recognized the veterans in attendance, expressing gratitude to all for their service. Two of Ms. Ward’s kindergarten students, Lainey Ruth Norris and Caleb Wyatt, assisted her in presenting certificates of appreciation to youngest veteran present, Fin Finley, and to Ted Mauney, the eldest.
Fourth-grade teacher, Calista Giles welcomed guest speaker, Philip Norman, current chief academic officer for Watauga County Schools. As a much-loved and highly-respected former principal at Green Valley and Hardin Park schools, Norman hardly needed an introduction, but few may have known about his earlier years serving in the US Navy.
As a decorated F 14 radar intercept officer for almost eight years in the Navy, Lt. Norman flew on several aircraft carriers, including the USS Carl Vinson.
Following his interactive presentation, which required participation from several students in the audience, Norman shared with High Country Press, “The main thing I wanted the students to get from my presentation was that there is a very big world outside of Watauga County, and adventure waits for them — if they were willing to go after it. I don’t think that they will remember much of what I said, but maybe they will just remember what they saw and that they know somebody who had some experiences that were pretty exciting. I am grateful that I am able to maintain my connections to the students of Watauga County Schools, and perhaps make an impact in their lives.”
A Hometown Hero Remembered
A special tribute by Ruppert highlighted the life and ultimate sacrifice of Harold Dean Beach, and how the young soldier – in service for less than a year — died as a hero while protecting his fellow soldiers on May 9, 1969.
Ruppert shared that Cpl. Beach had received numerous awards and medals — Silver Star for gallantry in action, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Purple Heart, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
In her slideshow presentation, Ruppert included pictures of Beach, as well as that of his name among many listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Ruppert shared how, after 44 years, in 2013, several of Beach’s fellow veterans – the D-Troopers — came to town for a much-overdue memorial service in his honor, held at his gravesite at the Skyland Cemetery on Rich Mountain. Later that same day, his comrades presented the Harold Dean Beach Vietnam Memorial Scholarship to a deserving student at Watauga High School.
Ruppert named several past recipients of that scholarship, which included two of Beach’s great nieces: Brooke Harrison-Miller (2011) and Chelsea Harrison-Ward (2012). Brantley Miller, Beach’s great-great nephew is currently a kindergartner at Green Valley.
Ruppert announced that the school plans to create a mural onsite to remember Beach and all local veterans. “ It is a work in progress, but we hope to have it complete for the 2024 Veterans Day Celebration.”
Ruppert also shared that Green Valley School library had just received copies of two recently-published books, written primarily by Beach’s commanding officer, (listed as John Gayle/author) with stories shared by his troops, and includes references to Beach and his heroic actions.
The books, Vol.1 and 2, “D Troop 1/10th Cavalry 1966-1971: In Our Own Words,” is available on Amazon.
Beach’s niece, April Norris, represented their family at Thursday’s ceremony, accompanied by her husband, Billy Norris, daughter Brooke Miller and her son, Brantley Miller.
“It means so much to see Uncle Harold get the recognition he deserves for the ultimate supreme sacrifice he made,” Norris said. “We recognize athletes and celebrities, but the true heroes, like Uncle Harold, often go unnoticed. If it wasn’t for people like my uncle — and all the soldiers fighting for our freedom — they couldn’t play sports or play in movies, to begin with. Our military and law enforcement deserve to be in the spotlight and recognized for the sacrifices they make and have made.”
She added, “To have this mural done in Uncle Harold’s honor, and for the recognition he is being given is very special to all of our family. It makes us so happy to know that his death wasn’t in vain. I will always try to honor and show my gratitude to Uncle Harold.”
Following the ceremony, veterans led the processional, along with their families, to a reception in the music room.
Learning About Service, Sacrifice and Compassion
The Veterans Day program at Green Valley started in 2010, interrupted only during the pandemic. Both Sandra Ruppert and Heather Ward, who coordinate the event, give much credit for its ongoing success to their entire school family. “We have a committee that helps organize everything, but it is really a school-wide event,” Ruppert said. “Teachers volunteer to bring refreshments, classrooms decorate doors, PTA provides stamps (for invitations) and make other donations, JROTC helps with the parade, etc. It is a magical day to watch generations come together and learn about service, sacrifice, and compassion.”
Green Valley School is located at 189 Big Hill Rd. in Boone.