McCallie junior Brady Evans stood near the crest of the big hill at the center of Chattanooga’s National Cemetery Saturday afternoon, a bright sun dancing off the white marble headstones that mark the graves of nearly 50,000 veterans.
He had come there with more than 75 of his schoolmates, their family members and friends to lay Christmas wreaths on 450 of those headstones, the wreaths having been purchased by those with McCallie ties. Evans organized and coordinated the school’s participation in “Wreaths Across Chattanooga” for the second year in a row. Fiberglass Sculptures
“I have a long and extensive military history in my family,” he said. “It never dawns on you until you walk around out here and realize each of these headstones honors someone who died for our freedom. Then you go, ‘Wow!’’’
Retired Navy Captain Mickey McCamish heads “Wreaths Across Chattanooga,” along with the annual Veteran’s Day Parade and other events. A 27-year Navy vet, he could just as well be known as Captain America around the Scenic City for all the amazing work he’s done to honor and remember veterans from all branches of the military.
But ask Captain McCamish about Brady and he’ll deliver his own “Wow.”
“Brady is one of a kind,” he gushed. “His enthusiasm and dedication are beyond reproach. When you look at what he’s done with McCallie, all these students out here on a cold morning, this is the youth of tomorrow. This is the future that makes sure this continues.”
It was a wonderful sight to see, all that McCallie blue hard to miss among the couple of thousand folks who flocked to the cemetery to honor loved ones lost. But it was more inspiring to hear their words concerning why they had come.
There was McCallie faculty member John Green laying a wreath on his late father Welch Butler “Buddy” Green Jr’s headstone. Green Jr. was a staff sergeant in the Air Force during the Korean War.
“This is awesome,” Mr. Green said as he looked across the more than 30,000 total wreaths that could be seen across the cemetery by midafternoon.
But then he said something else, something any son – particularly one who had also served his country as John Green did as a helicopter pilot in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War – might say at such a moment.
“I have to stay stoic,” he said. “If I don’t, I’ll lose it, and I’ve lost it a few times visiting my parents’ graves out here. It’s hard for me to come here.”
McCallie junior Eason Zhou doesn’t have a family member buried at the National Cemetery. He’s a boarder from China, having come to the Ridge as a freshman. But he’s participated in “Wreaths Across Chattanooga” with Evans both years.
Asked why, Zhou replied, “To show unity and pay tribute during the holiday season. During World War II, America and China fought together to stop the Nazis and Japan. We honor those soldiers today.”
Then there’s Craig Ingvalson, McCallie’s longtime director of Development and a 1977 graduate of the school. As Mr. Ingvalson told the McCallie contingent gathered at the top of the cemetery’s hill, “There are 50,000 stories out here. My father’s story is but one of them.”
Perhaps, but what a story.
Briefly, Roger Ingvalson, Craig’s father, was a Minnesota farm boy who became best friends with Chattanooga native Wayne Fullam when they entered the Air Force. As he described both their friendship and their fighter pilot expertise, Craig referenced the Top Gun movies, saying of his dad and Fullam: “Maverick and Goose didn’t have a thing on Roger and Wayne.”
Unfortunately, Wayne Fullam, with three young sons at home, was shot down and killed in his 38th mission in Vietnam. Roger was later shot down as well, but somehow survived, becoming a prisoner of war for the next two years.
When he returned to the States, the widower grew close to his best friend’s widow, Dorothy “Booncy” Fullam. They later married, making brothers of Craig and the Fullam boys – Mike, McCallie class of 1975, Mark, ‘79, and Gary, ‘80.
In one of those endings Hollywood couldn’t create, Roger and Wayne’s headstones are right next to each other, along with Dorothy, her full name Dorothy Fullam Ingvalson engraved on the back of Roger’s headstone.
There’s surely a movie in there somewhere.
But all of this, at least the McCallie portion of “Wreaths Across Chattanooga, begins with Brady and a conversation he had with Captain McCamish during a gathering at the home of his grandmother, Kathy Leff, 15 months ago.
Captain McCamish later called Brady to ask if McCallie might like to help with the wreaths project, telling him, “It’s always good to get the youth involved.”
The inaugural “Wreaths Across Chattanooga’ but two months away, Brady immediately went to assistant head of school Kenny Sholl to get his thoughts on participating in Captain McCamish’s project. Given that his own father, Jerald Alfred Sholl, was a veteran, Mr. Sholl enthusiastically responded, “Yes, let’s get this going.” And much like a year ago, Jerald Sholl’s headstone was one of the first to receive a wreath from the McCallie group on Saturday.
Moreover, from 27 volunteers Brady found to distribute wreaths last year came more than 75 this time around, with close to $4,700 raised after $1,300 the previous year. Brady says that after he graduates in 2024 and heads off to begin his studies to become a minister, the Missionary Committee will take over McCallie’s role in the project.
As Brady was giving this year’s volunteers final instructions on how to lay the wreaths and to speak the veteran’s name as part of the presentation, he repeated a quote widely attributed to British street artist Banksy that goes as follows: “A man dies twice: Once when his heart stops beating and once when his name is said for the last time.”
As long as there remain men and women such as Brady to honor our veterans, the names of our deceased military heroes should fill the air for decades, if not centuries, to come.
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