In a solemn procession, four members of Davenport American Legion Post 26 Color Guard marched Wednesday onto the stage at Central High School for the Fallen Warrior Ceremony.
All veterans, the guards stood at attention as some 100 cadets in the Central ROTC Blue Devil Battalion stood to recognize the contributions of 44 members of the military from Central and Davenport high schools, killed in action.
The annual event featured guest speakers, including Col. Kenneth J. Tauke, garrison commander at the Rock Island Arsenal, and Christopher Hickey, retired from the Marine Corps and assistant director of the National Cemetery in Rock Island. Central Principal Jon Flynn also spoke, reminiscing on former Davenport students, Brad Korthaus and Jason Pautsch, who were killed in the Middle East.
It was a honor to speak at the ceremony, Tauke said, adding those who died for their country were not much older than the high school students in Kahler Auditorium.
"Our nation has deep gratitude for service members willing to go forward," Tauke said, calling the U.S. Army the greatest army, in the greatest nation of the world.
Rock Island's National Cemetery traces its roots to 1863, during the Civil War, Hickey said. There are 800 burials each year at the site, he said, including some killed in action.
Hickey cited the words of President Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address: "... that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ..."
For his part, Flynn said he is not a soldier and the closest he came to combat is hunting deer. But, his wife was a neighbor to Korthaus, who he described as "rambunctious." Korthaus, who died in Iraq in 2003, was a graduate of Davenport Assumption High School.
When Flynn worked at Davenport North High School, he also knew Jason Pautsch, killed in Iraq in 2009, the victim of a suicide bombing. In high school Pautsch was "over-the-top energetic" and graduated early in order to join the U.S. Army.
"So I do understand loss," Flynn said, adding that the sacrifice of young men like Korthaus and Pautsch allow him to live the life he's chosen, in his hometown.
Cadet Major Rebecca VanVooren and Cadet Lt. Col. Samuel Reynolds read the names of 44 from Central who are the schools' "fallen warriors." The reading of the names was followed by a moment of silence.
Reynolds said he appreciates his time at Central, and has not forgotten the warriors who walked in the same hallways he does.
A rendition of "Taps" ended the ceremony.
Cody Stephenson, a senior, is commander of Alpha Company in the ROTC corps at Central and said the Fallen Soldiers Ceremony is important.
"I think every school should do this," he said, adding that fallen soldiers do not get enough recognition, except on Veterans Day.