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  • PATRICK's PEOPLE: ROTC honors veterans

  • Topeka High School Junior  Marine ROTC members will again travel to Pittsburg to participate in Memorial Day activities, scheduled at 2:30 p.m. May 27 at the Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, Pittsburg State University.

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  • Topeka High School Junior Marine ROTC members will again travel to Pittsburg to participate in Memorial Day activities, scheduled at 2:30 p.m. May 27 at the Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, Pittsburg State University.

    “We’re honored that we year after year get invited,” said Curtis “Gunner” Kelley, in a telephone interview. “The reason we started coming was because of Col. Bob Marshall, and he’s the reason we keep coming.”

    Marshall, former Kansas state senator from Fort Scott, is a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel.

    Kelley, senior Marine instructor has been with the Topeka High School program since it started 18 years ago, after serving 20 years in the U.S. Marines and retiring in 1996 with the rank of chief warrant officer 3.

    There are around 145 members in the group. The rifle drill team will present a rifle drill, and the group color guard will present the colors during the Pittsburg observance.

    Kelley said that the Junior ROTC members come to school at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday.

    “What they get is a class every day, on general military history, leadership, patriotism, citizenship, manners, how to set a table and write a letter,” he said.

    There is also a strong emphasis on conflict resolution.

    “War is never glamorized,” Kelley said. “It’s a true travesty when adults get together and can’t come to a resolution. How can grown men and women solve problems in the world when they can’t solve them at home?”

    What his students don’t get is a sales pitch for the Marines.

    “We are not hear to recruit,” he stressed, and participation in the ROTC program carries no obligation whatsoever for a student to enlist in the Marines or in any other branch of military service.

    The Topeka High School Marine Junior ROTC has twice won national championships in drill competitions, and is a three-time winner of the Marine Corps Reserve Association Award.

    Closer to home, the cadets received a plaque from Topeka Police Chief Ron Miller in January to recognize them for their services at the funerals of Officer Jeff Atherly, 29, and Cpl. David Gogian, 50. The two were slain Dec. 16, 2012, while investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle in a supermarket parking lot.

    Page 2 of 3 - The cadets served as ushers and escorted family members of the slain officers at the funerals. They chose to do this rather than participate in a city-wide Junior ROTC competition.

    “It’s a competition they had won the previous five years,” Kelley said.

    He is fiercely proud of his students, and feels the benefits they receive from participating in the ROTC program, such as discipline and responsibility, will serve them well in adult life.

    “I read to my graduating students ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’,” Kelley said. “I’ve read it 16 times. I told them this morning that if I ever wished to have another job, this is the group I would want to go out with.”

    He said that his partner instructor had left in October, leaving him to handle the program by himself.

    “My students have picked up the slack,” Kelley said. “I’ve leaned on them, and since Oct. 22 they haven’t been high school kids, they’ve been adults. They rallied and showed their true colors.”

    He said that Topeka High School is an inner-city school with a diverse student population.

    “I have lawyers’ kids and kids in foster care,” Kelley said. “My wife and I have adopted two of my students. These kids and the staff I’ve had this year have probably been the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some great staffs before.

    He said that this year he has graduates heading off to more branches of the military than ever before. He expects them to do well, and also believes that those who choose to pursue civilian employment will be a credit to any employer who hires them.”

    “For 37 years God has blessed me to wear this uniform,” Kelley said. “I hope he blesses me to wear it a few more.”

    The Memorial Day ceremony will include honoring Gen. Fredrick Funston, whose family moved from Ohio to Allen County. He was commissioned a colonel of the 20th Kansas Infantry in the U.S. Army on May 13, 1898, in the early days of the Spanish American War. On Feb. 14, 1900, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in capturing a position in the Philippines.

    Page 3 of 3 - Keynote speaker will be Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, adjutant general of Kansas. He will be introduced by Col. Marshall.

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