Retired Navy vice admiral, Zanesville graduate honored at ceremony

A new digital billboard and tribute to Vice Admiral Bert Calland (Ret.) is on display at Zanesville High School. (Brittany Bailey/10TV News)

ZANESVILLE, Ohio — Hundreds of people gathered at Zanesville High School to honor Vice Admiral Albert "Bert" Melrose Calland III (Ret.) on Friday night. The event also was designed as a fundraiser for a new digital billboard at the school and the JROTC program.

"Nice, very nice," Calland said as he saw the tribute for the first time.

A large portrait of Calland now hangs to the left of a digital billboard on the front wall of the school. That billboard will show the names of all of the Zanesville High School students who have served and died for our country. Already, there are more than 100 names dating back to the Civil War.

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"By doing the live monitor, outside wall, people can drive up and look at it. It’s going to be heartwarming to those families who’ve lost a loved one in any war, at any time, to know that they have never, ever been forgotten," said Ron Bucci, one of the event organizers and a fellow Zanesville High graduate. "We wanted to make sure that we never, ever forgot those who paid the ultimate price, and Bert was the perfect person to make us all come together and fit."

Friday's event featured a dinner, several speakers and, of course, the unveiling of the new digital billboard.

"It’s over the top for me," Calland said. "I don’t seek that type of recognition. I’m honored, deeply honored, that they’re doing this."

Calland said he was a "good enough" student while at Zanesville, but he excelled at football and swimming. And he knew what he wanted to do when he graduated. But that goal was not military service, at least at first. Originally, Calland wanted to be an oceanographer. That led him to the U.S. Naval Academy. But, once he was there, the call of the military got louder.

He joined the Navy and eventually earned the rank of vice admiral. But he fell short of earning his fourth star, one of his biggest regrets, when he agreed to become deputy director of the CIA.

Before that, Calland also had served as the commander of Seal Team Six, which later went on to take down Osama bin Laden. And he was the first U.S. military flag officer to set foot in Afghanistan after the 9-11 attacks.

He saw a lot in his military career that spanned more than three decades. But it was his wife who brought him to tears on Friday.

"I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my wife," Calland said, choking up a bit. "It’s hard to talk about. She’s been unbelievable. I mean, you can imagine, here I’m gone, and she’s at home, trying to take care of everything, and she’s just remarkable, absolutely remarkable, and I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her."

Bucci pointed to Calland's warm heart as just one reason he was the perfect person to pay tribute to at the fundraiser. Tickets started at $50 per person, and organizers sold enough to more than cover the cost of the billboard. It will now run from morning until night, every day, to honor the Zanesville students who served and died.

The rest of the proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the JROTC program, which attracted more than 50 students this school year, its first year in existence.