By Frank Lewis
November 11, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Sandy Merritt burst into “God Bless America,” and the student body at Portsmouth High School and Portsmouth Junior High School burst into a standing ovation. It came minutes after Merritt’s son, Command Sgt. Major Rick Merritt spoke at his mother’s final Veterans Day celebration at PHS.
“Many years ago I asked Mr. (Tom) Smith, I said, ‘Mr. Smith, I’m a patriotic woman. Would you let me do the program?’” Sandy Merritt told those assembled in the gymnasium. “He said, ‘why sure.’”
That is how it started. Monday, Merritt announced it would be her last Veterans Day program.
Col. Aaron Polston spoke to the student body on the importance of Veterans Day, and then read a long list of accomplishments, awards and medals received by Command Sgt. Major Rick Merritt of the Fort Drum, New York, 10th Mountain Division.
“The price of freedom comes with a cost,” Rick Merritt told the assembly. “In the 10th Mountain Division, we take pride in calling ourselves warriors. We stand ready to respond to the call. In my humble opinion, your teachers and administration have a very similar mission for this school.”
He spoke of the sacrifices of those who served and those who are currently serving in the military, giving special honor to those who died in the line of duty.
“We owe our soldiers a debt we can never repay,” Merritt said. “We must honor them in deeds, not just words.”
After the Veterans Day assembly, Sandy Merritt talked with the Daily Times about the emotions she was feeling.
“Right now, I’m sad, and happy,” Merritt said.
Merritt, whose entire family for generations has served in the U.S. military, said she was proud that on the final Veterans Day program, she was able to have her son speak to the students, especially after his having gone through a long illness.
“I love my children. I love all these kids. I love America most of all,” Merritt said. “Most of all, I am so glad and proud to be an American. I love everybody. I can really say there is nobody in this whole world that I don’t love.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.