Military salute for retiring SE Whitfield teacher - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Military salute for retiring SE Whitfield teacher

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WHITFIELD COUNTY, GA (WRCB) - Senior Day at Southeast Whitfield High School is a day to honor departing students. The same could be said for retiring teachers, who also get a salute, but Jeff McDonald had no idea he'd get a farewell fit for a hero.

"I thought they would do some little recognition, maybe they'd let me stand and wave, but I never expected this," he said.  He was referring to a military salute from fellow Marines.  McDonald, a decorated Marine who retired with the rank of Major in 1995, is leaving the classroom after 29 years of service, all in Whitfield County.

His time in the Marines included a stint in Kuwait in 1991 during the Gulf War.  He says his military training came in handy at school. "I've taught engineering and broadcasting classes here at Southeast," he said. "Some of these students walk in not believing in themselves. If there's one thing the Marines taught me, especially in boot camp, it's this: I can do anything.  This school is always the underdog, but look at the results.  We handed out a million dollars worth of scholarships to these seniors.  This school, and these students can do anything, and they prove it every day."

Among those paying tribute to McDonald was a former student, Joey Jones.  A fellow Marine, Jones graduated from Southeast in 2004.   McDonald was his longtime teacher, coach and "father figure," according to Jones, dating back to their days at Eastbrook Middle School. In 2010, while serving as a bomb technician in Afghanistan, Jones stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost his legs.  Today Jones is fully mobile, energetic and charismatic, and a student at Georgetown University.   He told Southeast students that McDonald is an excellent role model.

"He talked to me at Eastbrook about his time in the service, and for the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to stand for something.  He personifies the meaning of sacrifice in the service."

McDonald’s son Chris, was also a Marine. Jones was a friend of Chris McDonald, and reached out to his former teacher about the Armed Forces Foundation after Chris took his own life. The foundation raised $500,000 in Chris's name to support its Help Save Our Troops campaign.  Jones graduates this weekend from Georgetown University, "something that wouldn't have been possible without the teachers here at Southeast, including Jeff McDonald," Jones said.  He'll soon take on a new position that supports wounded military veterans.

Although McDonald is leaving Southeast Whitfield, he'll remain in the community and says the school will always be close to his heart.  "People don't understand what happens in the classrooms here," he said.  "Teachers are busting their tails every day, students are overcoming all kinds of obstacles to make the grades and earn these rewards, and they deserve recognition for it."

The program to honor McDonald was organized by a former colleague, Chris Anderson, who now teaches at nearby Coahulla Creek High School. "Major McDonald is a true American hero, to his students and to all of us," Anderson said.  "This is just a small way to let him know how much we appreciate him."
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