More than 250 Beaufort High School students got a crash course Friday in the importance of service and the power of perseverance.
Sharing a stage with two crisscrossed steel beams that once supported one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, three veterans of the war in Iraq and a two-star general spoke to students during an hour-long assembly organized by the Independence Fund. The Beaufort nonprofit organization raised nearly $100,000 to fly more than 50 severely wounded veterans and their caretakers to Beaufort for this weekend's 16th annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival.
The charity sponsored similar assemblies Friday at Beaufort Academy and Battery Creek High School.
Former Army Sgt. Bryan Anderson, 29, who lost his legs and left hand while serving in Iraq in 2005, spoke about his loss, then received a raucous standing ovation.
Anderson, then a military police officer, was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq when the humvee he was driving hit an improvised explosive device.
"When I got blown up, I thought, 'I've got one hand now. What am I going to do?'" Anderson said. "You don't know what you can handle until it happens to you."
The assembly also featured remarks from Marine Maj. Gen. John Toolan, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; former Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Nick Popaditch, who lost his right eye when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during a battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004; and former Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Workman, who battled post-traumatic stress disorder upon returning from Iraq in 2005.
Beaufort High School Principal Dan Durbin said he hoped the speakers' sacrifices resonated with students.
"These gentlemen sacrificed so that you could have the right to a free, public education ... and the right to make of yourself whatever you desire," Durbin said. "Don't let their sacrifices go in vain."