Dinner for military-bound graduates returns to in-person event

The annual Our Community Salutes recognition dinner and program that honors local military-bound high school graduates is returning as an in-person event this year after two years of being held virtually.

This year’s ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, May 27, at the Rocky Grove fire hall, and chairman Sherman “Tank” Morrison said he is excited to get things back to normal.

Morrison added that the theme this year is “Honoring the ones who took the oath.”

Morrison, who is a 21-year Navy veteran from Franklin, and his wife, Tracy, launched the Our Community Salutes initiative here in 2013.

His goal of thanking recruits and showing the community’s pride in the new graduates has resulted in honors for about 500 local young men and women who have entered the military over the past nine years.

At first, Morrison only approached schools from Venango County. But as more time has gone by, he began reaching out to schools in other area counties.

Morrison said he is expecting about 50 graduates to attend the ceremony. He added that Our Community Salutes honored a total of 90 recruits in the two years the ceremony was held online.

“(The ceremony) is all paid for by local businesses, fraternal and veterans organizations. It doesn’t cost the graduates anything,” Morrison said.

Morrison said the national Our Community Salutes organization helped the local chapter hold the ceremonies virtually in 2020 and 2021.

“(The national organization) had the technology to help present to the kids, and we reached out to them for a video production,” Morrison said.

“Oh, by far,” Morrison said about his excitement of holding the ceremony in person this year. “We’re so tickled because we get to see the emotion and pride (of recruits and their families) in person this year.”

Our Community Salutes is giving the recruits red, white and blue honor cords, a challenge coin, key tag, “forever candle,” bag, ink pen, flashlight, copy of the U.S. Constitution and more.

Morrison said “a lot of veterans will tell you that there was nothing like this when we joined (the military).”

He told the newspaper in 2019 that his motivation for starting this program is he believes recruits should be recognized before their death.

“Academic students always receive recognition, and I wanted to make sure these recruits received recognition for serving our country,” Morrison said. “That’s what the whole program is about — trying to change the course that these kids are going off with some kind of recognition for what they are doing.”

Morrison said that in addition to the local ceremony, a national recognition will be hosted virtually by America Salutes at 7 p.m. Thursday.

During this ceremony, a “thank you” message from recording artists, celebrities, parents and service members in the field will be presented to the recruits.

Some of the speakers will include actors Gary Sinise and Neil Brown Jr. and CBS chief investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod.