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Air Force captain asks Culver students to take time to remember fallen alumni

Tom Coyne

Air Force Capt. Marcus Shannon '11 speaks at the Gold Star Ceremony on Memorial Day (Photo by Camilo Morales)


Air Force Capt. Marcus Shannon ’11 asked Culver Academies students during the Gold Star Ceremony on Memorial Day to take a moment to think about those who died defending their country.

Shannon told the students that he didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of Memorial Day and the Gold Star Ceremony when he was a student at Culver. He said that when he was a cadet it was time to get together in Memorial Chapel and read the names of “people who died a long time ago in a war that we honestly don’t care about anymore because it was so long ago.”

But he told the students that only a small percentage of Americans are a part of the military “and everyone past, present and future needs to sit and think long and hard about one single question: Am I willing to fight and die for the people I love, but also the people I hate.”

“Veterans Day is to honor those who have answered yes to that question. Memorial Day is to honor those and remember those who never came back and who died too young,” he said.

He asked the students to think about their best friend or someone they see in class. He then asked them to envision what it would be like to wake up one day and discover that classes had been canceled, but they didn’t know why.

“Your unit or dorm leadership is looking around for any adults to see what is going on, but they can’t find anyone. As you’re wandering the halls, wondering what’s going on, you start to get a sinking feeling in your stomach, like you might throw up,” he said. “You try to take a deep breath, but you can’t. You forget about the adults and you start to take a mental tally of all your friends. Then you see your counselor come in with a blank face, pale. The company is silent as your counselor tells you something happened to a student last night. They didn’t make it."


A Culver Girls Academy student places a wreath on a Gold Star Flag during a Memorial Day service. (Photo by Camilo Morales)


He told the students that’s when they learn the best friend or classmate he had mentioned earlier had died. He said that’s how it was for the loved ones of Gold Star Culver alumni who died at war.

“I want to take a moment for those of us who have lost someone, to think about them,” he said.

Every Memorial Day, Culver recognizes alumni who have made the ultimate sacrifice, reading the names of Culver alumni who died during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the War on Terror.

“We give thanks for the Gold Star men of Culver,” said the Rev. Dr. Sam Boys, director of spiritual life. “We honor them for their faithful service and all they have done to defend and preserve our freedom so we may all stand here today in peace and safety.”

Shannon, who serves as an instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, also told the students that an important lesson he learned while he was a student at Culver was that every job is important and you shouldn’t agonize over the glory of a title.

He told the students about how he thought he was going to be regimental commander, or at least, regimental adjutant, heading into his senior year. Instead, he was given the position of regimental operations officer.

He recalled being disappointed and talking to his counselor about it. The counselor asked him about the responsibilities of each position. When the counselor asked what the regimental operations officer did, Shannon rattled off five to 10 responsibilities. When asked about the regimental adjutant, Shannon could only think of one or two things. The same thing happened when was asked about regimental commander.

Shannon said it took him a few days, but he realized he could have a bigger impact in the position he had been given.


Culver Military Academy cadets hold up the Gold Star Flags during the Memorial Day service. (Photo by Camillo Morales)


“The job that I got, even though I wasn’t happy about it, it felt like it could be more impactful than the one I wanted,” he said. “So this is what I learned: The impact on the world is more important than the glory of any title that you have.”

He told the students they don’t need to have a rank to do something important or impactful.

“You just have to see something that is wrong and do something about it,” he said. “Every job is important, don’t get me wrong. It’s what you do with that job that is important.”

He also told the students that ideally, everyone in a unit should be working together with the same goal and isn’t worried about what rank or position they have. He said he learned that lesson during the Culver Annual Review.

“When you are working together as a team toward a common goal, you don’t feel like yourself. You feel like a giant with the combined strength of everyone on your team,” he said. “When you win, you don’t just feel your own happiness, you feel the happiness of all those  around you. You can accomplish so much more as a team and the glory you feel afterward is shared and multiplied together.”


The Rev. Dr. Sam Boys, director of spiritual life at Culver Academies, enters Memorial Chapel at the start of the Gold Star Ceremony, followed by Air Force Capt. Marcus Shannon '11 (left) and Doug Bird '90, head of schools. (Photo by Camilo Morales)


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