Sgt. Major Ludwell Brown always wanted to yell in a school.
“Raaaa,” he yelled, to a round of applause from the Culpeper County High School students assembled for the school’s second annual Veterans’ Day ceremony.
Brown thanked the more than 50 veterans in attendance for their service, their sacrifice and then in his booming, commanding voice, implored the students to do what he did to reach the rank of Sgt. Major - give 100 percent.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do, if you think you are good enough there is nothing that can hold you back,” Brown said.
Brown, a 1964 graduate from Taylor High School in Orlean, was drafted out of high school and can still vividly recall the day his mother handed him the letter.
“I had not seen my mother cry before,” Brown said. “To see her hand me this letter, and turn her head and walk off assured me that something important had to be in that letter. The only thing I could say was ‘Mom, don’t worry about it, it’s going to be alright.’”
Brown was more than alright, he said, because God had already ordained his way. He made a career out of the military, married, had three children and became a qualified tanker in the Army. It was there that he met a Gen. Abrams, who Brown asked if he could do what he saw 3-star generals do to 4-star generals … take off their books.
“If you think you are good enough, report to the Pentagon,” Brown recalls Abrams advice. Brown left combat arms, “went into the house where generals live” and worked for 12 generals over 26 years.
He talked directly to the CCHS culinary arts programs, one of his other passions, pointing out they could one day work in the White House.
His passion, his drive is what helped make him successful and he asked the students to put forth the same effort in everything they do - including honoring the veterans assembled.
“I busted my butt every day I showed up for the job,” Brown said. “I did not take one day for granted that I had it made. When you put forth 100 percent in anything you do in life, can’t nobody hold you back.”
Prior to the ceremony, the veterans gathered in the school library to be served a breakfast by the culinary arts program and to share stories.
Marine Corp JROTC Commander Major John Liddle said the students could learn a lot from the veterans.
“Judging by their reaction, it’s humbling, sobering and inspiring, all at the same time,” Liddle said. “We teach values before we teach drill. We teach values before we teach physical training. We teach values before we teach marksmanship. All of the things we teach here are grounded in citizenship.”
Culpeper County High School’s Marine Corps JROTC is one of only two in the Commonwealth recognized as a Marine Corps JROTC honor school.
Liddle praised the leadership of junior captain Kaitlyn Snuffer, who has helped lead the program to first place in armed and unarmed competitions.
Snuffer said she was honored to share the same space with the veterans Friday.
“It’s amazing, the freedom we have today is because of them and to get to see them and meet them and get to talk to them is really great,” Snuffer said.
She said that the secret to the cadets’ success has been communication, and pointed out several veterans said the same thing when talking about their service.
“You have to make sure your troops are prepared,” Snuffer said. “You have to sound mean sometimes to get them to work, but they know it’s out of love and it’s what's best for them. At the end of the day, we have great camaraderie and we do it all together.”
Snuffer said she hopes to work for the Federal Borough of Investigations some day, and this has helped inspire her.
“Just being here makes me want to go into the military 10 times more,” Snuffer said.
CCHS principal Danny Soderholm smiled with pride as his students interacted with the veterans.
“It’s a wonderful way to teach our students about citizenship, also the sacrifices that go along with that,” Soderholm said.
During the ceremony, CCHS honored a Gold Star family in their midst, as sophomore Alexis Thomas’ brother Cameron was killed in action in 2017 in Afghanistan.
Del. Nick Freitas, a veteran himself, said he was proud to have high schools like CCHS and Eastern View High School in the district he represents honor veterans.
“It does show respect for the men and women who have worn the uniform for the country,” Freitas said. “There are so many stories here, of sacrifice, of camaraderie, of achievement, of loss - for students to have an opportunity to hear those stories from the people who have experienced it - I think it makes a deeper impression. It’s the interaction that I’m so impressed with here today.”