The Thomson-McDuffie Middle School gym was filled with people young and old, including veterans and ROTC cadets who will become soldiers, for the school's Veterans Day program on Nov. 10.
When asked to stand in honor of a parent, grandparent, sibling or relative who has served, hundreds of attendees got to their feet.
TMMS Principal Neal Tam spoke of America's biggest national debt of all - that which the country owes to its veterans.
"It's a debt that can never be repaid, but our gratitude and respect must last forever," he said.
Lt. Gen. Dewayne Patrick, a Thomson resident and Thomson High School graduate, was the guest speaker.
Patrick retired from the Army after 31 years of service that included combat tours in Vietnam and Korea as an infantry officer.
He received an array of awards, including two Distinguished Service Medals and a silver star.
Patrick described Americans as the "best, most benevolent people on the face of the Earth."
"Have you ever noticed that our men and women in uniform, our armed forces, are always there to lend a helping hand to people in distress?" he said. "When disaster strikes, they're always there."
All veterans in attendance received recognition, including five faculty members at THS and TMMS.
THS band director Jessie Morlan and Gunnery Sgt. Larry Dunn both served in the Marines.
TMMS teachers William Overman and Melinda Palmer served in the Air Force, overseas and domestically, and Jean Jordan was a military intelligence analyst in the Army.
"We all need to pray for our veterans and their families and offer thanks for their years of service to our nation and the sacrifices they freely gave," Patrick said.
He said in the not-too-distant future many students in the room might face the decision of joining the military, a choice he strongly encouraged.
"If you need any advice, I'm the only Patrick in the phone book," he said.