Boys Nation Day 4: Honoring heroes

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On Day 4 of Boys Nation, the senators walked alongside thousands of white headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. It was during this time that two senators paid respect to a fellow 1998 Boys Nation alum from South Carolina, U.S. Army Capt. John "David" Hortman.

"Palmetto Boys State (South Carolina) was dedicated to Capt. Hortman; everything we did was in admiration of him," said Cory Alpert from Irmo, S.C. "He stood for everything that Boys State believes in, and everything The American Legion believes in."

Hortman, who had been on Palmetto Boys State staff since 2003, was killed Aug. 8, 2011, when his AH-6M Little Bird helicopter crashed during military training at Fort Benning, Ga. Palmetto Boys State staff and all 900 delegates honored his memory by displaying a Boys State flag with his name on it.

"When I was selected to attend Boys Nation, I came onto the stage and the first thing I said to our director was, ‘That flag is going to D.C. with me,’" Alpert said. "My belief in Capt. Hortman is what got me to Boys Nation. I never met Capt. Hortman, I never knew him personally. But to my fellow delegate and me, he was our brother, he was in this with us, and that’s what mattered.

"I’m here to honor his memory, so I asked (American Legion National Chaplain) Gerald Theriot to say a prayer at Capt. Hortman’s gravesite. I started breaking down because it became real at that moment – he was so alive with us at Boys State, but to see his name in stone solidified that he is no longer with us."

Meanwhile, Ben McFarlin from Canton, Ga., and Gabriel Levy from Clarksville, Tenn., laid a Boys Nation wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as their fellow senators quietly watched. National Commander Fang A. Wong and National Chaplain Gerald Theroit were also present alongside the young men.

After Arlington, the senators visited the Iwo Jima Memorial. "I heard a few of the guys talk about God’s hand on the statue, that it was His extra hand," said Jacob San Agustin from Tacoma, Wash. "It’s awesome that a person could put that into public art."

The senators spent the afternoon within their respective party creating a platform – actions for which the party stands for. The senators use the platforms as a way to help their nominated party president and vice president gain votes during election. Both parties have similar platforms, which feature planks (i.e., topics) such as health care, tax reform, immigration, education, energy, veterans affairs, economy, gun control and foreign policy. The senators created policies for the planks, in which they debated and voted upon.

"We (Federalist party) came up with topics that we thought were important based on the goals and bills we saw coming from our party," said Zachary McFarland from St. Cloud, Minn.

And to ensure all Federalist voters had a voice about the platform’s topics, "We allowed everyone to speak twice on a plank before cycling through to another one," said Patrick Gill from Annandale, Va. "If they had a topic that they were really strongly for and it got lost in discussion, we asked them to write an amendment and bring it up to the convention secretary. Then only the platform committee voted on it."

For the Nationalist party, "We decided we wanted a broad basis on each of our planks," said Colton Buckley from Gatesville, Texas. "That way, when our president and vice president nominee stand in front of the voting senators to debate against the Federalist nominee, if they make a wrong move or say the wrong thing and upset people and lose based on that sole thing, our nominee couldn’t come to the Nationalist party chairman or platform committee and say, ‘What you did cost me the election.’ Instead, it’s based on what they do alone on stage.

"We also allowed the voters to choose if we were going liberal or conservative on the planks, and a lot of voting members are upset because we didn’t go left or right. However, we are supposed to represent the republic and represent democracy and how it works in America."

As mentioned, it’s the party platforms that will help elect a 2012 Boys Nation president and vice president. But before the two positions can be filled, the Federalist and Nationalist nominee’s graced the senate stage one last time to remind voters who they are, what they stand for and why they should be the next Boys Nation president or vice president.

After hours of voting and casting ballots, the Federalist party elected Joseph Aumuller from Libertyville, Ill., for vice president and Michael Richard from Fitchburg, Mass., for president. Richard won against Patrick Fitzgerald from Harvest, Ala., by two votes. He is now working on his plan to win votes from the Nationalist party.

"I’m very moderate, and here at the senate meetings people throw out their conservative or liberal opinions, and I mostly listen," Richard said. "I weigh everything, partly because I’m still learning, and I think that the true meaning of Boys Nation is to learn. I said in one of my speeches that people didn’t come here to say ‘no,’ so I want to get as many bills passed as I can possibly sign. I want to see people’s hard work paid off."

The Nationalist party had a smooth election when nominating Talior Arnold from Evergreen, Colo., for vice president. But the presidential candidates ran a tight race – to the point it left the presidential nominee in disbelief.

Colton Buckley from Gatesville, Texas, led the first nine rounds of balloting, but found himself tied in ballot 10 with Jonathan Hess from Tuscaloosa, Ala., because a senator was absent during voting. The tie issued another ballot, which caused a turn of events – it sealed the presidential nomination for Hess.

"I sat thinking I’m just another person running who is going to get knocked out in the third or fourth round; it’s crazy to think I won," said Hess, who is an Eagle Scout. "I hope to run a very issues-based campaign on hot-button topics like illegal immigration and the nation’s current economic predicament. I would like to be moderate in most of my statements and seek compromise and balance with my own ideas.

Today’s activities include senate sessions and president and vice president candidates’ debate and election.