ANDERSON — Gabriel Toppin always had at the back of his mind that he one day wanted to follow in the footsteps of his four great-grandfathers and join the military.

“That just made me want to do that. I want to do that. I want to be like them,” the Liberty Christian senior told students at the elementary school during a fireside chat with the school’s Superintendent Jay McCurry.

But when a recruiter came to Liberty Christian School last year, the final decision was made.

“I talked to him, and I knew right then that was what I wanted to do,” he said. “I think I might stick it out for the full 20 years, make a career of it.”

Though Toppin turned 18 just last week, he already joined the National Guard, a division of the U.S. Army that takes its orders from the governor, and was honored with other veterans Friday during Liberty Christian’s Veterans Day Chapel at the elementary school. Veterans also were honored during the Veterans Day Chapel on Thursday at the high school.

The event included pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible; musical selections, including an Armed Forces medley, “Yankee Doodle” and “America” by the school’s choir and band; and recitations by students.

The Veterans Day Chapel is one of many events in Madison and surrounding counties, the state and the nation that will take place over the weekend and through Monday to honor veterans for their service.

Toppin, who did his basic training over the summer at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and attends monthly drills at the armory in Muncie, shared some of his experiences with his young schoolmates.

“They’re very willing to work with a high schooler’s schedule,” he said. “Boot camp was a pretty big challenge. The toughest part was the mental aspect.”

The Veterans Day Chapel not only met the goal of honoring those who have served our nation but also through Toppin to introduce younger students to a potential career pathway, McCurry said.

“I can say as head of school, we are super proud of Gabe and the decision he made to go into the military,” he said.

McCurry said Liberty Christian embraced the veterans in attendance – some of whom were relatives of students and some of whom were not – as family.

“If you or a family member have served in the military, today has been a tribute to you and thousands of others who have given sacrificially so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we hold so dear to us,” he said.

Wearing his Army baseball cap, Cold War veteran Jack Dawson, grandfather of Liberty Christian fourth-grader Daniel Dawson, attended the annual program for the first time. He was drafted in 1970 and served as a specialist guarding the Nike and Hercules nuclear missiles in Germany.

“It’s nice. It’s really nice. They need this more,” he said of the program. “I think that all the things they see on TV, they have a sense of honor and they’re proud of it.”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB,

or call 765-640-4883.

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