MANCHESTER – It’s the 15th time November novelist and English teacher Jill Ocone has stood before an auditorium filled with veterans. This year, it’s more filled than usual, something both Ocone, and before the ceremony started, principal Douglas Adams, commented on.
November 1 was the Manchester Township High School’s 15th annual Veterans Recognition Ceremony, a celebration of students, staff, and community members from the area who served, or are serving, in any of the five military branches.
The soldiers span the generations: two gentlemen in attendance served in World War II. They rose when Ocone asked if anyone served then, received their applause and melted back into the sea of men when it quieted. The youngest soldier in the ranks was Cameron Teeple, 17, a senior in the high school who completed basic training while still a student—the first at Manchester—and ships out in July. He’s the first in his family to join the U.S. Army.
The program said it all: “Each and every Veteran, Serviceman, and Servicewoman is a HERO for serving the United States of America and defending our freedom. The students and staff of MTHS greet you today with our utmost gratitude and respect.”
“The ceremony was my idea back when I was Student Government Association adviser. We used to have off on Veterans Day, and I got upset over seeing a commercial for a Veterans Day furniture sale. I believed that our veterans deserved better, so SGA started the ceremony when I was adviser,” Ocone told The Manchester Times on Nov. 5. She gave up the adviser role, but asked to keep organizing the veterans event because “I believed in the mission of showing gratitude to those who serve and served our country.”
The school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Color Guard showed the national colors, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, the National Anthem and each military branch service song played. The Nov. 1 proclamation officially released by President Donald J. Trump just that morning–and just in time, Ocone said, as it’s usually released earlier than a few hours before her ceremony—was read aloud by Crystal Kilfeather, “National Veterans And Military Families Month.”
Amidst the waves of graying and balding heads covered by service caps mixed with the backpacks and hoodies of students, the reminder remains that many men and women didn’t come home. Many will never collect their certificates of appreciation that Ocone hand-delivers to audience members as their names, favorite service memories and advice to students is read out. Some of those walked the halls of Manchester High School, and not that long ago.
“They shared the same classroom seats that you sit in. Shared the same desks. Shared the same hallways, lockers, and teachers that you currently have,” Ocone said. One was Manchester High School student Sgt. Ron Kubick, who attended the high school through his junior year. He graduated from Manasquan High School in 2006. “He was an imp with the best mohawk you would ever, ever see. And I like to make sure our students know about Ron, because Ron on the surface was a rough-looking individual, and when he passed away, he was an Army Ranger. And if you know anything about Army Rangers…yeah. Ron was a tough guy.
“However, Ron was a writer. And, when he went to Manasquan in 2006, and he graduated, he penned something which was located on his MySpace page, because yeah, MySpace was the thing back then,” Ocone said. “The young people especially can learn from Ron’s words of wisdom which he wrote before he even realized he was going to be serving the United States.”
We can change things, and we can make things better. The majority of people reading this are under 30 years old and I seriously need to talk to you. We are here on earth and we have the opportunity to do something truly great. We are the youth. We are the future of this nation and this world. We can change things. We can make things better. We can do whatever we set our minds to, even if it is one thing, one small change, that we help create to better ourselves, our friends, our country. All it takes is a dream. Find a topic you believe in and fight for it, people. Make your dreams a reality. Thank you so much for reading this. Have an amazing life, and don’t forget to do your part for yourself, your friends, and your society. — Ronald Kubick, 2006.
He was 21 when he was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan on April 23, 2010, part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Other graduates remembered were Matthew Zegan (1973-1994, class of 1992), Corporal Nicholas Ott (1988-2011, class of 2006), and Joseph Pushkal (1976-2008, class of 1994).