Five Simple Words: Thank You For Your Service

Middle and Upper School students honored our veterans on Monday, November 13, with two division assemblies. Veteran Will Shockley, retired MICDS teacher and coach, addressed both audiences. In the Middle School assembly in Eliot Chapel, Head of Middle School Jen Schuckman introduced Mr. Shockley and expressed how happy she was for his return to our community. He received hugs, handshakes, and fist bumps from his former colleagues, who were thrilled at the chance to see him again.

After his remarks (shared below), Mr. Shockley rushed to the Upper School to participate in that assembly. Before the formal program, guests and students mingled outside Brauer Auditorium, where displays about MICDS’ contribution to military service were available thanks to Cliff Saxton ’64, St. Louis Country Day School Archivist, and a veteran himself.

Once the students were settled in Brauer, Head of School Jay Rainey began by welcoming students, teachers, staff, and guests and requested the audience rise for the singing of the National Anthem by our Upper School choirs. He then shared some background about Veterans Day:

Veterans Day, which was observed as a federal holiday this past Friday, and which actually transpired on Saturday, was originally known as Armistice Day to salute all honorably discharged military veterans of the United States Armed Forces. The first Armistice Day was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to commemorate the end of major World War I hostilities the prior year at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in June 1954 through a law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This change was proposed by a World War II veteran to expand the scope of the holiday to honor all veterans, not only those who served in World War I.

In years past, MICDS has held a Memorial Day assembly in the spring. Beginning this year, by shifting the ceremony to the fall, we are expanding our remembrance to salute all veterans associated with our school. At this time, I would ask those veterans in attendance with us today to please stand and be recognized.

As our veterans stood, the auditorium was filled with the sound of clapping and even a few cheers. Mr. Rainey then welcomed Mr. Shockley to the stage, saying:

Our guest speaker needs no introduction to most of you, because, like so many of your predecessors, you have had the privilege of being students or athletes under his tutelage and care—even when you thought he was mad at you. Will Shockley joined our MICDS faculty in 2002 and retired in May 2022. During his long and impactful tenure here, he served as an eighth-grade history teacher and a track and field and soccer coach. He has been a beloved mentor and friend to countless members of our school community, and although it might embarrass him to hear me say it, I am not embarrassed to say that we miss him dearly. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Shockley to the podium for our ceremony today.

Mr. Will Shockley’s Remarks

Good afternoon. First, I would like to thank the MICDS community for allowing me this opportunity to share some thoughts with you about veterans. Before I begin, I want to give a special shout-out to the members of the Class of 2026, the last class I taught at MICDS. You will always hold a special place in my heart and mind. Ever since I met Celeste Prince and worked with her as a coach of the track team, she always said, “Shockley, words have meaning, so use them wisely.” Well, for the next few minutes, I shall attempt to do so.

Mr. Rainey acknowledged the veterans in attendance today and I would like to add five simple words: Thank you for your service.

Sovereignty is the authority a country or nation must have to govern itself. It gives them the right to make laws, establish an economic system, trade with other nations, sign treaties, and defend themselves with military force. Some countries require its citizens to serve in the military, but in the United States, service in our military has been voluntary since January 1973.

You may have heard some of the slogans: Be All You Can Be, Forged By the Sea, Aim High, The Sky Is Not the Limit, Protect, Defend, Save, and The Few, the Proud, the Marines. 

Military service begins when a person goes into one of the four military academies or a recruiting station and states a desire to join the military. They undergo a very thorough medical examination, a mental evaluation, and a written and verbal test to determine their aptitude for military service. If they successfully pass these tests, they will publicly take the following oath:

“I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

About five percent of the current population of the United States have earned the title of veteran. The reason for our service varies, from the prospect of traveling to new countries, the opportunity to gain experience in a new skill, the opportunity to meet new people and experience diverse cultures, to support and provide for our family, or out of a sense of duty/patriotism to this country. Regardless of the reason, we served. We served in foreign nations and here in the United States. We served away from loved ones, and we served in many dangerous situations. Thank you for your service.

During the Class of 2026 Celebration Night, Harper Clark talked about “her story” during her reflection speech, so I would like to share my story with you as to why I served.

Well, you could say it started at birth. I was one of eight children, and I was in the middle. I had siblings above me giving orders and siblings below me I gave orders to. The military seemed a natural fit for me. The desire I had really grew when two soldiers appeared at our door at the height of the Vietnam War to tell us that my 19-year-old brother had been killed in Vietnam. I understood he took an oath to serve our country I knew why he was there, but I didn’t understand what happened or why. Bobby had less than 20 days left in-country on his one-year tour. His platoon sergeant told us some months later that he had a choice to not go on that particular mission, but he went because of the people he had trained with. He chose to join the unit. That instilled in me the desire to be part of something bigger than myself.

After college at Truman State University, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I served as a platoon leader, an executive officer, a company commander, a commanding officer, a personnel officer of a battalion, a brigade operations officer, and my career culminated as an assistant operations officer.

My story ended after 22 years and six months of active duty that took me through three overseas deployments, one with my family and two without, service at military installations in Washington state, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia. None of my service would have been possible without the men and women I had the honor of serving with who took the oath of service and lived up to it.

Wayne Downing, William Crouch, Carlos Martinez, Mark Varner, John Glaze, Stewart Shatz, Maria Silva, William Steele, George Sweat, Rosa O’Donnell, James Johnson, and many others. On a more personal note, Richard C. Mahaney, John J. McAleenan, Floridus Bain, Ronald Bain, Kevin Campbell, Gregory Martin, Sanford Campbell, Kenneth Townsend, Billy W. Shockley, Bruce E. Shockely, Theophilus B. Shockley, John B. Shockley, Bobby J. Shockley, and the veterans who are in the audience today and the many who are not. 

Their names will not live in any history books, but they lived up to the oath they took and supported and defended the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, throughout their service. Many of them still serve today in hospitals, courtrooms, and assembly plants. They serve as teachers, businesspersons, elected officials, law enforcement, and community activists. Thank you for your service.

Would Callie Bambanek (grandfather), Robin Campbell (father, brother, and husband), Nick Menneke (brother), and LaWanda Shockley (husband and son), please stand? If you have a family member who has served or is serving in the military, would you please join them and stand? Would you all join me in a round of applause? Thank you for your service.

The United States is blessed by its geographical location. It has very friendly nations to the north (Canada), to the south (Mexico), the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. To defend this nation, the military uses a “Forward Deployment” strategy. We station U.S. forces in foreign nations who are our allies and as they will defend us if we are attacked, we would use military force to defend them. This strategy requires service members to spend extended periods of time away from these shores and from our families and loved ones.

Thank you all for what you did and continue to do while we are away. Thank you for the letters and packages and phone calls you sent and made. Thank you for the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and many other special events you held before we left, or celebrated upon our return. The sacrifices you made in our absence made the time away from home much more bearable. Thank you for your service.

Joseph Campbell said, “A hero is someone who has given their life or service to something bigger than oneself.” Most veterans do not consider ourselves as heroes, but as someone who lived up to the oath we took, in support and defense of the Constitution of the United States by our military service.

It was truly an honor to speak with you today as a representative for the many veterans who served our country. When you see or meet a veteran and you choose to say those five simple words—Thank you for your service—please know how much they are valued, and how very much they are appreciated.

After a rousing round of applause by the student body, Mr. Rainey once again took the stage to introduce two student speakers, Ella Brauer ’24 and Kamryn Reed ’24. They spoke eloquently from their point of view as children of veterans.

Student Speakers

Ella: Hello, my name is Ella Brauer, and my dad is a veteran. 

Kamryn: Hello, my name is Kamryn Reed, and my dad is also a veteran.

Ella: My father, Jason Brauer, joined the United States Marine Corps in 1999 after graduating from Colgate University. He officially decided to join the Marines while teaching English in Russia as part of his goal to be a part of something bigger, in addition to following in the footsteps of his own father, who was also a Marine. He led a platoon of soldiers in the 2003 Iraq War during the global War on Terror. As a Marine, my dad was one of the first American soldiers to invade Iraq. He was deployed while newly engaged and was unsure if he would ever see his then-fiancé, my mom, ever again. At the time of his resignation, he was a Captain in the Marine Corps with the 1st Marine Division. My dad was honorably discharged from active duty in 2003 and resigned his commission in 2008. 

Kamryn: My father, Timothy Daniel Roepke, graduated from West Point Military Academy in 2001 and immediately began his service in the Army preparing for the War on Terror following 9/11. He served as a platoon leader in the 3rd Infantry Division for the invasion into Iraq in 2003. After he returned to the United States, he served on a multi-national unit, training the armies of Singapore, Kuwait, Colombia, and the Emirates in USA weapon systems. He was then deployed back to Baghdad in 2005 before leaving the army as a Captain in 2006. He was awarded a bronze star medal for his actions under fire in April 2003. 

Ella: We are beyond proud to be able to stand and speak about our fathers’ service. Being children of veterans has made the sacrifices of military service very personal and has given us so much appreciation for the bravery and selflessness that our fathers and every other United States veteran have demonstrated. 

Kamryn: In addition, our fathers’ service offers us a sense of solace and hope in the midst of challenging times. All too often, we have found ourselves worried about the divisiveness that exists in the US today. Our fathers’ times in the United States Army & Marine Corps, however, are important reminders of the unity of this nation and the selflessness of its citizens. 

Ella: Veterans throughout American history have, over and over again, put this country first in order to make an impact. President Ronald Reagan once said that (quote) “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don’t have that problem.” 

Kamryn: We are forever in awe of the courage of our fathers and veterans like them, who held so many lives in their hands and represented this nation in brutal conditions overseas. They helped defend the United States while also helping foreign citizens stay safe from threats from their own governments.

Ella: For us, Veterans Day is a time to honor the great sacrifices made by men and women in service to our country. We are proud to be the children of veterans and proud to honor them by telling their stories. Thank you.

Their remarks were moving and relatable to their schoolmates, and there were tears and hugs flowing freely.

In Honor and In Memory

Finally, Mr. Rainey closed the assembly by recognizing both veterans and those we have lost while serving. He said:

Today we gather in honor of the hundreds of Country Day, Mary Institute, and MICDS alumni, faculty, and staff—past and present—who have proudly worn the uniforms of America’s Armed Forces. These men and women have served with distinction throughout the world, in times of war and in times of peace.

As has been a tradition at our Memorial Day assembly, we will now take time to remember the 33 members of our community who died in service to our country during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Some were just a few years older than you are now. 26 perished in World War II alone, including four of the 36 graduates of the Class of 1941—the equivalent of 17 members of this year’s senior class.

Recognizing the sacrifice of people to whom our shared history connects us helps to personalize our understanding of military actions which otherwise may feel very remote and long ago. As their photos and names are displayed, please keep in mind that they, like you, made friends in school, and thrived in some of their classes and struggled in others, and stressed about assessments, and sometimes, I’m sure, would gaze out the classroom window, thinking about an upcoming game or performance, or wondering what life after graduation had in store for them. They would ultimately sacrifice their dreams and aspirations so that members of future generations might realize theirs.

Today, we honor those whom we have lost—just as we honor all those who have served—with humility, gratitude, pride, and respect. Please join me in a moment of silence.

The names and photographs of those we lost were projected for all to see, and are also memorialized here.

The Upper School Choirs, led by US Arts Teacher Dana Self, sang a moving medley of My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful, their gorgeous voices pouring over the balcony of Brauer Auditorium, cascading over the audience, and filling the space with sound.

After the program, guests were invited to the Blanke Room for a small reception, which also included more informational displays by Mr. Saxton. Students took advantage of the opportunity to catch up with Mr. Shockley and share fond memories of their time under his watchful eye and caring personality in the Middle School.


Thank you to Mr. Will Shockley and our student speakers, Ella Brauer ’24 and Kamryn Reed ’24, for sharing their stories with our community. Thank you to Mr. Cliff Saxton ’64 for helping us commemorate our veterans and those lost in service through his engaging displays. And of course, we remain ever grateful for the service of all our veterans, those who returned home and those who gave their lives in service for our country, who unwaveringly offered, as President Abraham Lincoln said, the last full measure of devotion.