Retired Colonel Gregory D. Gadson received a hero’s welcome at Locust Valley Middle School on Nov. 24 when he addressed the student body with inspiring words. He posed for photographs and signed autographs for students.

Col. Gadson is a wounded warrior, retired from the U.S. Army after serving more than 25 years. While serving as a commander in Iraq, Col. Gadson lost both of his legs and normal use of his right hand and arm when his truck was struck by an improvised explosive device. Despite this life-altering event, he remained on active duty in the Army and inspired those around him with messages of courage, perseverance and determination. These are the same messages he shared with the middle school students.

“You have opportunities,” Col. Gadson said. “You need to take advantage of those opportunities.” He spoke about patriotism, his commitment to the military and his personal struggles. A video depicted his role as a mentor to the N.Y. Giants, who consider him an important part of the team, as he inspires them to stay strong and work hard. Col. Gadson was a linebacker at West Point, where he began his military career. He originally intended to serve the required five years to pay back his education; however, when the five years were up, he couldn't see himself anywhere else. “I loved serving my country,” he said.

Col. Gadson is the recipient of two Distinguished Service Medals, two Legions of Merit, three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, three Meritorious Service Medal and three Army Commendation Medals. 

Locust Valley resident Kaye Weninger, who spearheads Operation Democracy, met Col. Gadson at a conference and was so inspired by his story and attitude that they became friends. Weninger used that friendship to secure a speaking engagement by Col. Gadson for the middle school. She explained that she could not think of a better favor to ask of the colonel than to impart his wisdom on the students. 

As part of the Veterans Recognition Program, Col. Gadson was joined at the middle school by members of the Locust Valley and Bayville American Legions. Town of Oyster Bay Councilwoman Michele Johnson recognized the veterans and presented Col. Gadson with a certificate of appreciation. He also received special gifts from the middle school representing Locust Valley and Long Island. The seventh- and eighth-grade chorus performed a patriotic tribute to the veterans, and high school senior Patrick Wilhelm sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

Middle school student government advisers Penny McElwain and Kathleen Reilly organized the event and said they hoped that the students would recognize the sacrifice of veterans who risk their lives for our nation.
 
The middle school has also kicked off plans for a fundraiser to help purchase iPads for wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center.