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A Variety Of School Programs Honor Local Veterans Of US Wars



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A Variety Of School Programs Honor Local Veterans Of US Wars

By Nancy K. Crevier

& Eliza Hallabeck

Flags were raised, food was served, and veterans were welcomed, thanked, and honored across the school district Friday morning, November 11, for Veterans Day.

At Sandy Hook Elementary School a full morning was scheduled to visiting veterans and students that included a flag-raising ceremony, a breakfast buffet, and more. At Hawley Elementary School the student body was festively dressed and ready for a morning assembly that honored veterans past and present. At Head O’ Meadow Elementary School Veterans Day was marked for the first time with a breakfast and more for visiting veterans.

Other schools in the district also held Veterans Day assemblies, including Middle Gate Elementary School and Newtown High School.

Sandy Hook School

Red balloons bobbed outside the entrance to Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning, November 11, where a flag-raising ceremony attended by veterans and their families kicked off the morning long celebrations of Veterans Day at 8. “Taps” accompanied the flag-raising, played by Sandy Hook School graduate and now NHS student Sean Sonntag.

Following a brief ceremony outside, veterans and their Sandy Hook School sponsors were invited into the cafeteria, where they dined at a breakfast buffet presented by the school’s PTA. Many of the veterans and their children and grandchildren who accompanied them paused outside of the cafeteria doors, where a wall was posted with photos of the veterans, and descriptions written by the children about their time in the service. Original artwork, rather than photographs, accompanied some of the brief essays, eliciting smiles from viewers.

Sargaent Eric Beauchamp, a 19-year veteran of the US Army and recruiting officer from Brookfield, stood at attention by one table as other veterans filed past him. Sgt Beauchamp was the featured speaker at the school Friday morning, and said that his speech would focus on “our duties to the nation, as veterans. We need to raise our kids to love our nation, and grow them to lead our nation.”

Hugo Rojas was among the more than 130 guests at the breakfast, attending with his two children, 9-year old Ryan and 7-year old Leah. Mr Rojas, who served in Japan and Korea, was a corporal upon discharge from the US Marines in 1998 following four years of service.

Tony Barbagallo, Jr, a veteran of the US Air Force (1983–89), having served in Europe, joined his daughter and his father, Tony Barbagallo, Sr, at the event. Mr Barbagallo, Sr, from Glastonbury, served in the Pacific Theater, in the US Navy, from 1943 to 1945.

Also enjoying the morning, with his son, Karl, 8, was Konrad Miller of Sandy Hook. Mr Miller served in the US Navy from 1980 to 1986, on submarines out of Groton, Scotland, and Virginia, as a machinist mate, second class.

Jim Reese, US Army Korean veteran (1966–1969), came from Fairfield on Friday morning as a guest of his grandchildren, Erin, 8, and Colleen Phaneuf, 9.

Michael Frattaloni of Bridgewater described his service on an aircraft carrier to granddaughter Jessie Eisle, age 8, as they enjoyed the morning meal together. Mr Frattaloni served in the US Navy Reserve from 1964 to 1966.

Sandy Hook School PTA organizer Beth Hegarty said plans for the morning, following breakfast, included visits to the classrooms by the veterans, where children would recite “The Pledge of Allegiance,” a poppy presentation by Alison Amanzio’s third grade class, a choral presentation by the fourth grade classes of Kathy Gramolini and Courtney Martin, the talk by Sgt Beauchamp, and remarks from principal Dawn Hochsprung.

“We’re very happy to have all of the vets here today,” said Ms Hegarty.

Honors At Hawley School

Rows and rows of children and staff dressed in red, white, and blue filled the gymnasium at Hawley School on Friday morning, as the school prepared to honor veterans past and present at a special gathering.

Following welcoming remarks by principal Jo-Ann Peters, in which she welcomed the special guests and noted that the day was set aside to celebrate and honor the men and women who have served and are still serving the country, Hawley Girl Scouts led the audience in “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

The school chorus then presented “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” before selected Hawley students spoke on the meaning of Veterans Day, and then introduced third grade essayists. The readers spoke about how Veterans Day was special to each of them, thanking the soldiers who have fought for our country, and noting, as did one reader, “I’m happy that my grandpa didn’t die.”

“It’s a special day to honor the veterans,” said third grade student Joseph Tartaglio, standing on tip-toe to reach the microphone at the podium. “If we didn’t have veterans, we wouldn’t have this world. I think everyone loves veterans. I’m proud of my grandfather for being a veteran,” he said.

Following an introduction by students of their special veteran guests, and a moment of silence to reflect on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, a slide show presentation depicted all of the Hawley veterans who had been brought forward by friends and family of Hawley School students.

Fourth grade readers also presented their essays, again thanking all of the soldiers for their many sacrifices.

Virginia Hepp shared the story of her grandfather, Ted Hawley, who served during World War II as an Army Air Corps pilot.

“I served in the European theater,” said Mr Hawley, “and joined as a college sophomore in 1943.” Interestingly, Mr Hawley said that most veterans never spoke about their service time following the war.

“I worked for the federal government after I got out, and found out after 30 years that a good friend and colleague was also a veteran. We never talked about it. We were proud of what we did,” Mr Hawley said, “and then put it behind us.”

Also in attendance at the Hawley School program was superintendent of schools Janet Robinson, Board of Education chairman William Hart, and Selectman Will Rodgers.

A First At Head O’ Meadow

For the first time, Veterans Day was celebrated with a buffet breakfast this year at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School. Invited guests, including special guest USN Chief Petty Officer and Commander of VFW Post 308 Dan Kearns, gathered in the school’s cafetorium after a special flag raising ceremony outside the school’s main entrance.

“Those of you who gave of yourselves in service to your country, we thank you,” said Head O’ Meadow Principal Barbara Gasparine.

Behind Ms Gasparine, a world map projected on a screen marked where each of the visiting veterans have served.

Shortly after breakfast had begun, Head O’ Meadow lead teacher Jennifer Meyers introduced Sara Washicko’s second grade class, as Ms Washicko and the students filed into the cafetorium with hand-made paper poppies to distribute as gifts to veterans past and present.

Veterans were asked to stand to accept their paper flowers from students.

Students sat with veterans across the cafetorium, like Maria Evertez, who ate breakfast next to her grandfather Antonio Evertez, who served in the US Navy aboard the USS Uvalde.

Emmett Dowd sat next to his father, Tony Dowd, during the breakfast. Mr Dowd graduated from West Point, the United State Military Academy, and served with the US Army.

Ava Baroody was smiling while eating breakfast with her grandfather, Rodger Behrend, who served with the US Marines from 1961 to 1964 during the Vietnam War.

According to Ms Gasparine, food for the breakfast was donated by Bagel Delight, Dunkin’ Donuts, Big Y, and Caraluzzi’s.

Chrissie Pierce’s third grade class offered patriotic songs as entertainment during the Veterans Day breakfast.

Just before breakfast was served, students and visiting veterans gathered outside the school’s main entrance for a flag-raising ceremony. Head O’ Meadow custodian Jose Lebron, who served with the US Army Military Police in Germany, oversaw the raising of the American flag.

Also in attendance for the event was Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda.

Head O’ Meadow’s Veterans Day event was sponsored by the school’s PTA, and PTA members Dawne Kornhaas and Kristin Mahoney co-chaired the event.

Middle Gate Elementary School

Students gathered in two separate assemblies at Middle Gate Elementary School in the afternoon on Friday.

During the first assembly, fourth grade teacher Linda Baron introduced a student run skit that answered the question, “What is a veteran?”

After the students, Eamon Doherty, Kelsey Pearson, Rebecca Alicea, and Kaitlyn Kantor, in the skit discussed what a veteran is, the actors came to the conclusion that everyone should say thank you to a veteran. The gathered students at the assembly and teachers joined in a loud “thank you” at the end of the skit.

Ms Baron also oversaw the Veterans Day effort at the school.

This year, like last year, veterans were asked to attend the event to speak to students. Ms Baron introduced Bethel resident and veteran Skip Clapp to students during the assembly.

Mr Clapp said he was hoping other veterans would visit the school later in the afternoon to also visit with students.

Following the theme of the student performed skit, Mr Clapp said a veteran is many things.

“When we signed up, either when we were listed or we were drafted, it is common knowledge that we sign a blank check up to and including our lives if necessary,” said Mr Clapp.

Mr Clapp also said that he learned Friday morning, before visiting Middle Gate, that 2.2 million Americans have died in military service since the Revolutionary War. He added that many more servicemen and women have returned home over the years with visible and invisible wounds.

Veterans organizations, like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization, take on the charge of helping men and women who have returned home.

Mr Clapp served for 10 years, from 1959 to 1969, during the Vietnam War era but not in Vietnam. Post 100 American Legion and VFW 935

After speaking to the students, Mr Clappp allowed students to ask him questions. One student wanted to know why he had signed up with the Navy.

Mr Clappp responded that his father was the reason he joined. His father was a career Navy man, he said, and Mr Clapp’s first memory of his father was of him walking home in his uniform.


Newtown High School

At Newtown High School a luncheon for veterans was held before an assembly was held in the school’s auditorium.

NHS Assistant Principal Scott Clayton acted as the moderator for the assembly and introduced speakers.

Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson spoke first, following a Newtown High School Chamber Choir and Signers performance of the U.S. National Anthem.

Dr Robinson spoke to the bond between servicemen and women she has witnessed, and her understanding of the sacrifice that is made when enlisted.

“My dad was a career Navy pilot, deployed for six to nine months at a time on a Navy carrier,” said Dr Robinson. “We would get dressed up and meet the carrier in San Diego on the completion of the tour with thousands of other families.”

Later, as a Navy wife, Dr Robinson said she waited for her husband’s return. Dr Robinson said when she sees a member of the military returning to their families, she cannot stop the wave of emotion that brings tears to her eyes.

“We appreciate your sacrifice, and honor your service,” said Dr Robinson.

First Selectman Pat Llodra spoke next. She told two stories to the packed auditorium.

The first story was of the death of Henry Gunther on November 11, 1918. He generally recognized, Mrs Llodra said, as the last soldier killed in action in World War I.

The second story focused on the death of Navy Seal Brian Bill on August 6, 2011, in Afghanistan. He was born and raised in Stamford, Mrs Llodra said, and had aspirations of becoming an astronaut.

“Brian’s uncle and aunt are Newtown residents, whom I recently came to know through their request that the memorial flag from our Main Street Flag Pole be used to grace their nephew’s funeral service,” Mrs Llodra said.

Mrs Llodra said she shared the stories of both fallen soldiers to honor the memory of them as real people.

“All of those soldiers who have served our nation for so many years have offered themselves as a buffer between the privileges of freedom and an enemy who would take that freedom,” Mrs Llodra said.

The special guest speaker for the day was Bethel resident and Marine Corporal Daniel Gaita.

“Every year we take this day to honor those of us that gave up our freedom to ensure the freedom of generations to come,” said Corporal Gaita, who is the owner of Private Studio Personal Training in Bethel.

Corporal Gaita said the brave men and women who fight and die for many things, including the students and himself, “are your brothers, your sisters. They are your mothers, your fathers, your grandparents, and our children. But they are also you. If you look around you today, some of your friends, some of your classmates will make these same sacrifices.”

Veterans, Corporal Gaita said, represent the living memory of the sacrifices endured before them.

“They are what make America strong. They are what keep America free. They are the protectors and guardians of our liberties,” he said.

Corporal Gaita also visited Middle Gate Elementary School following the event at NHS. 

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