Students were challenged to find a veteran and learn about their story of service and the sacrifices they’ve made during an annual Veterans Day event.

Robert Smith, a former principal at Indian Creek High School, talked to students about the importance of knowing their nation’s heritage and what veterans have done to preserve it at the Indian Creek High School Veterans Day program Friday morning.

After graduating high school in Edinburgh, Smith enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1965, and it was during his freshman year at the military academy that he met a fellow soldier, Howard Pontuck, who has inspired him to this day, Smith said.

Pontuck was a senior when Smith arrived at the academy, and he quickly became someone that he and other students looked up to, Smith said.

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“He was one of those special people whose presence you wanted to be in,” he said.

Smith described Pontuck as a man who was committed to his principles, family, God and country.

When Smith signed up to attend West Point, the commitment was for four years of training, followed by a 30-day leave and five years of service in Vietnam, Robert said.

Smith’s father had served during World War II in the Navy. Smith’s grandfather had wanted to serve, but was unable, having been too young to enlist during World War I and too old when World War II began, Smith said.

Smith spent only two years at the military academy, when an injury to his knee led to a medical discharge. He later went on to teach at Indian Creek schools in 1973 and was the high school principal from 1985 to 1990, before leaving to teach in Whiteland.

But Pontuck graduated from West Point and went to serve in Vietnam, where he was killed on March 8, 1968, at the age of 24. His name is listed on the Vietnam Wall on panel 43E, line 58, Smith said.

For those who haven’t served in the military, understanding the character and commitment of veterans and the sacrifices they have made is incredibly difficult to do, Smith said.

Smith encouraged audience members to take time on Veterans Day to get to know a relative, friend or community member who is a veteran, and to ask them about why and how they served.

He acknowledged that those stories aren’t often easy for veterans to share but asked those who have served to be willing to talk about their experiences, so that future generations will be able to understand the sacrifices that have been made to protect their freedoms.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.