St Rose of Lima School welcomed nine military veterans on Monday, November 11, for Veterans Day.
As the gathered students waited for the assembly to begin, each student held a small flag.
When the veterans walked through the Gathering Hall doors, a line of six students met to accompany them. “God Bless America” played as the students and veterans began their walk down the room’s middle aisle. All students respectfully rose from their seats, applauded the veterans as they passed, and then stood saluting until the song finished.
Following the song was the Pledge of Allegiance and a group prayer. Next, the veterans introduced themselves, gave their rank at retirement, and explained briefly what their role was in the military.
First to speak was Captain Brendan Dlouhy, senior vice commander of Newtown’s VFW Post 308, who was a helicopter pilot in the United State Army. When he gave his speech, Mr Dlouhy told everyone how much he truly appreciates all the “thank yous.”
There was Sergeant Carl Bergquist, who served for the US Army in Afghanistan. He talked fondly of his canine partner who was mainly used to sniff out narcotics.
His brother Matthew Bergquist also served in the US Army as a CW2 helicopter pilot. Matthew was the youngest of the veterans to attend the event, having graduated from Newtown High School in 2006. He told the crowd that he had just gotten back from Afghanistan a month and a half ago.
Master Sergeant James Rebman, commander of Newtown VFW Post 308, is retired from the United States Air Force. Specialist Brady Miller, quartermaster of Newtown VFW Post 308, served in the United State Army Reserves. Petty Officer Jay Gill was the only Navy veteran to attend the assembly; he served in Vietnam. He was also the grandfather of a St Rose student. Sergeant Elias Lopez was a chemical warfare instructor in the United States Air Force. He currently is an eighth grade teacher in the Bronx. Specialist Robert Arnold served in the United States Army. Also in attendance was Private First Class Michael Lapera who still serves in the United States Army Reserves.
After each man spoke, the floor was opened for students to ask questions. The veterans took their time to make sure each question was answered thoroughly.
The veterans were asked what were the conditions overseas, what did they drive, and have they ever gone over enemy lines? One student asked, “Did you get to blow up anything?” The question caused the room to erupt with laughter.
One child asked the veterans how long they went without seeing their families. Their responses ranged from six months to two years.
“How long did you have to train?” asked another student. Mr Rebman replied, “I spent eight months before ever seeing a submarine… every day is training in the military.”
When asked, “What role does faith have when serving away from home?” Mr Lopez answered, “It was very important. Every Sunday we went to church… it was a moment to breathe.”
After about an hourlong session for questions, the different grades at the St Rose of Lima School individually presented the veterans with gifts and a monetary donation.
“God Bless America” resumed playing and the students gave the veterans a standing ovation. At the end of the assembly the veterans handed out their red poppy flowers, which are a symbol of remembrance for those who have served.