The simplest of freedoms — the chance for kids to go to school, participate in sports or play outside — were paid for through the sacrifices of America’s veterans.
This was the message of Col. George H. Bristol, who served in the United States Marine Corp for 38 years and is now headmaster at Whitefish Christian Academy, during a Veterans Day celebration Friday at Whitefish High School.
“Forgive me for being so somber on a great day, on a day where we honor all of our veterans,” Bristol said, addressing a crowd of veterans and students. “I will tell you this, that the sacrifice they make, in many cases is in your hands, boys and girls. What will your generation be, what will you do? I tell you to grow straight and strong. Think about the world that you want, and go after it and get it.”
Community members young and old filled the seats of the high school gym for Friday’s program, which also featured music by the Whitefish High School band, orchestra and chorus, as well as remarks from Principal Kerry Drown and a video message from Montana Sen. Jon Tester.
Bristol joined the Marine Corp in 1975 and retired in 2013. In his 38 years of service he spent 19 years deployed overseas, and his combat service includes locations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Bosnia-Herzegovina and across Africa.
He is also responsible for developing the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
“When someone says your accomplishments are too numerous to list, that means normally you’re very old,” Bristol joked as he took the podium.
Bristol spoke of the family and sense of belonging he found within the marines.
“That word comes up, war, and you wonder sometimes if you have what it takes. But what these gentleman here know, and what I know, is that you hold that place in your circle because you do not want to let that person to the left or right down. It’s not corny, not like a country western song, it’s, ‘Are we going to make it to the morning? Are we coming home?’ And when you come home and you see a place like this town you just want to kiss the ground,” he said.
He’s seen things he wouldn’t wish on anyone, he said during the ceremony, and that’s the cost of serving his country and community. Addressing the student body assembled in the gym, Bristol asked the young audience to think about the sacrifices made for them and to make the most of the world they’ve been given.
During the program, Principal Drown noted the prevalence of military connections in his own life.
“The longer I live the more I realize the wide array of connections there are in this world to members of our military. I imagine that most everyone in this room has a relative, a neighbor, a family friend or at least knows someone who has or is serving in the United States Armed Forces,” Drown said.
Tester, in his video message, noted a history of Montana representing itself well with high numbers in the military and said he is working on several pieces of legislation to benefit veterans.
“To all the veterans here today and across Montana, thank you for your service,” Tester said in the video. “After holding dozens of listening sessions across Montana, I’ve worked with President Trump to write and pass seven important veteran bills into law. Together, we will continue to make progress, improve access to care at the VA, create more opportunities and deliver on the promise to all who have served.”