What does Veterans Day mean to you? A parade or maybe a sale at the outlet mall?
Veterans Day means much more than that. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of World War I. Then in 1954 the name was changed to “Veterans Day” and November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
In 1916, just a couple of years after World War I began, the US Army Junior ROTC came into being. The San Marcos Academy JROTC program began two years later. Since that time, many Academy alumni have entered the Armed Forces. Some served for a few years, while others made a career in the military. More than a few paid the ultimate sacrifice, in giving their lives for our freedom.
Paul Peña was one such soldier. The week of Veterans Day, is a fitting time to present the Captain Paul W. Peña Memorial Scholarship, which which honors the memory of this soldier and Academy graduate. Allow me to tell you about Paul.
Paul was a Day Student from San Marcos. His mother, Cecilia Peña, taught music at an elementary school in Kyle and played piano at First Christian Church. Her son, Paul, entered SMA as a seventh grader. Paul was a member of the SMA Marching Band, the Color Guard, and the Powerlifting and Cross Country teams. He received the Best All-Around National Honor Society award and the JROTC Superior Cadet Award. Ranked fifth in his class, Paul was a gold cord graduate, a recipient of the McNiel Cup, and an Eagle Scout.
After graduating from San Marcos Academy in 2000, Paul attended The United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2004, and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant in the Army. He was awarded numerous military citations and decorations while defending our country.
The the unthinkable happened. Paul was killed in action in January, 2010. Visitors to our campus will notice the American flag at the tree in the center of the faculty parking lot. This tree is dedicated in Paul’s memory.
Following his death, Paul’s friends and family established a scholarship in his name. That scholarship is presented each year to a high school student who has previously attended the Academy and who, like Paul, demonstrates loyalty, integrity, and leadership qualities representative of Academy values. Cadets are given preference.
This year’s scholarship recipient, Cadet Lt. Col. Conner Irwin, shares several similarities with Paul. He is also a Day Student from San Marcos who also entered the Academy in seventh grade. Like Paul, he serves as a Student Ambassador and was selected for membership in the National Honor Society. He is a member of the percussion section of the Academy band. He is involved in the track and cross country teams.
Conner’s military awards include the Superior Cadet award, the Cadet of the Year award, the National Sojourners award, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart award. He also received the Peacock Military Academy medal and the SMA Alumni Award for Distinguished Service.
Conner also serves as the Battalion Commander and the senior class president. Congratulations, Conner, on receiving this special award. As we celebrate this achievements, may we all remember and honor the sacrifice made by CPT Paul Peña and others like him who “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).