Capt. Nickolas M. Zappone ’05 (U.S. Army) was the keynote speaker at Culver Academies’ Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday. Since 1924, Culver has recognized the sacrifices of its alumni in the military. The original ceremony served as the dedication of the Legion Memorial Building and honored the American and Allied soldiers who lost their lives during World War I, especially the Culver graduates who died in combat.
That dedication ceremony evolved into the Veterans Day ceremony and has been carried out on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of each year. The ceremony has changed very little since it was conducted at the dedication 91 years ago.
Zappone was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 2009 through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program at Michigan State University. He received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from MSU and his master’s degree in business and organizational security from Webster University.
Zappone’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (two Campaign Stars), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, the ISAF NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge, and the Parachutist Badge. He has also earned the Gold German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency.
He is currently stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. His company is one of three force providers to the Midwest Regional Correctional Facility.
Here is his speech:
“I stood where you are standing on Wednesday, September 12th, 2001.
“As a fourteen-year-old freshman I vividly remember walking into the Battery B day room and watching the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crash into Tower Two (on September 11th). We stood there in utter disbelief, uncertain if what we had just witnessed was reality.
“The next morning we assembled here, behind the Legion Building, to mourn the loss of 2,977 victims who lost their lives in the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of mankind. A cacophony of sobs and sniffles consumed the morning air as Mr. (Brent) Van Norman played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.
“Since that day I have heard the same rendition of that song seemingly countless times. At (plane) ramp and memorial services in Afghanistan; in post chapels in Texas and Kansas; and at funerals in tiny towns in America’s heartland. And I find that regardless of how many times I hear that song it inevitably paralyzes me with sorrow because, for me, hearing it means that the nation has lost another son or daughter.
“Sons and daughters who, over the course of this nation’s history, have stood in the vanguard against tyranny, imperialism, fascism, communism, and terrorism. On this day we remember the sacrifices they have made so that the inalienable rights this country was founded on are not only preserved but also extended to the poor, the weak, and the hungry across the globe.
“They served on kasernes across Germany, protecting Europe from a Russian advance through the Fulda Gap. They fought and died in places like Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, the Ardennes, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Fallujeh, and the Korengal River Valley. Some gave their last full measure of devotion on a distant battlefield away from the loving embrace of their family, with dirt and dried blood caked on their uniforms and the smell of cordite in the air.
“Their sacrifice is memorialized on hallowed ground in places like the Agronne, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Tunisia, and the Arlington National Cemetery. To borrow a recollection from President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address:
Under one such marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barbershop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire.
We’re told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, “My Pledge,” he had written these words: “America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.”
“So let us collectively remember the service and sacrifice of this nation’s warriors at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month. Let us commit ourselves daily anew to the preservation of this great Nation for which so many have fought so hard and sacrificed so much. May God bless Culver; may God bless this Nation’s veterans; and may God bless the United States of America.”