Veterans Celebrated In Newtown Schools
Veterans were celebrated during several ceremonies held in Newtown schools with activities including a car parade and an assembly, providing opportunities for students to wave flags and say, “Thank you,” on November 11.
Middle Gate Elementary School welcomed veterans to the school for a “Walk of Honor” in the morning. The visitors met in the school’s cafeteria then followed students holding signs displaying a veteran’s name through the hallways while other students and educators lined the route.
While walking through the hallways, the veterans passed a special decorative collection of photos submitted by students, featuring relatives who served in the armed forces.
“Thank you very much for your service and sacrifice, you are truly heroes among us,” said Middle Gate Principal Christopher Geissler over the school building’s loudspeaker just before the event began.
Across town at Sandy Hook Elementary School, students, faculty and staff lined up outside to wave at their special guests who participated in a Veterans Day car parade. As veterans arrived at the school, they were greeted by a Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue truck with a large American flag fluttering in the wind from its extended aerial ladder.
Then they passed a sign near the driveway entrance that read, “SHS Welcomes Our Veterans.” Students held signs, wore festive attire, waved American flags, and yelled, “Thank you veterans” as the cars drove by.
Reed Intermediate School hosted an outdoor Veterans Day Parade with invited veterans driving along a parade route in the school’s rear parking lot.
According to principal Matt Correia, nearly 40 veterans participated in the parade.
Some veterans chose to decorate their vehicles with signs and flags, while others played upbeat music.
Meanwhile, students from all 28 homerooms and many faculty members lined up to show their appreciation for the veterans. They held up handmade signs that read, “Thank you for your service,” waved American flags, and cheered.
PTA President Kathleen Shope also handed out presents to each veteran. The goodie bags included a water bottle, cookies, muffins, Dunkin Donuts gift card, and a thank you note.
St Rose of Lima Knights Assembly 3230 visited the school in the afternoon of Veterans Day to participate in a full-school assembly, when they also honored students who participated in recent essay and poster contests.
“We are grateful for your service,” St Rose of Lima School Principal Bardyl Gjoka said at the start of the assembly to the visitors.
Hawley Elementary School also held a Veterans Day parade. Hawley students dressed in red, white, and blue for the occasion and waved as veterans drove by.
NHS And The Veterans’ Journey
Newtown High School Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco welcomed veterans to the school’s auditorium and shared that having students attend school on Veterans Day offers a chance to collectively honor the men and women who have served in America’s armed forces.
Brookfield First Selectman Elect Tara Carr, who was born in Danbury and raised in Brookfield, was the guest speaker for the event. Carr is retired from a 25-year military career, and is the local director of operations for the Danbury Amazon Logistics Center. “Veterans Day,” Carr said, “honors all those who have served in the armed forces, both living and deceased.”
She reflected that her military career led her to learn languages, such as Mandarin, which fostered her travels to almost every province in China, and to leading forces.
Speaking to the high school students attending the assembly, Carr said she enlisted in 1995 after someone visited her high school and spoke about the armed forces. Since joining, when she was just older than 18 years old, she has “had many incredible experiences.”
Carr said she has been thinking about what it means to be a veteran and the word she summarized that meaning with was, “Pride.” That emotion comes from the sense of defending the community with the chance of possibly laying down her life as some of her friends did. She asked those in attendance to close their eyes and imagine sleeping at home in their beds with no locks and no doors, yet sleeping peacefully knowing there are people ready to protect them. Those people, she said, joined the armed forces “for us, and they do it without ever meeting us.”
“It was my honor and privilege to serve,” said Carr.
Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal also spoke at the event. He thanked the members of American Legion Post 202 for organizing the assembly with high school staff.
“Most importantly thank you to all of our service men and women for their past, present, and future selfless sacrifice,” Rosenthal said.
He then introduced Chris DiNoto, a lifelong Newtown resident and former US Marine Corps Captain, and Karim Ahmadi, who had served as an Afghani translator for DiNoto’s Marine advisor team in Musa Qala in Helmand province, Afghanistan, and who was recently brought to Newtown through DiNoto and others’ efforts. Rosenthal noted a recent story in The Newtown Bee, “Newtown Resident, Former Marine, Rescues Afghans From Taliban,” that highlighted Ahmadi and DiNoto’s efforts to bring Ahmadi to Newtown from Taliban controlled Afghanistan.
Like Carr, DiNoto spoke about memories of being in high school and hearing a visiting speaker talk about serving in the armed forces — but he was a Newtown High School (NHS) student.
He remembers being in chemistry class when the then principal announced over the loudspeaker on 9/11 that “our country was under attack.”
Stepping out of that chemistry class, DiNoto observed, led him later to the deserts of Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
Journey Took A Toll
Being in the armed forces was a journey, and it took a toll, said DiNoto.
“Our story, the one of veterans, is one of sacrifice, camaraderie, adventure, heartache, and probably more loss than glory,” said DiNoto.
While standing behind a podium on the NHS stage, DiNoto said he wanted to pay homage to “this place,” where his journey began 20 years ago, and the people “who molded us to who we are today.”
He pointed out things he learned as an NHS student that helped him later in life. Speaking before a crowd? Learned in an NHS social studies class. How to face an opponent? Learned on an NHS wrestling mat. How to keep moving when quitting would be easier? Learned from his time on the NHS cross country team.
And, DiNoto continued, long before he told Ahmadi while he was surrounded and trapped in Afghanistan that he would never leave him behind, “I learned first what it was to have integrity and honor, and to keep my word to a commitment.”
“Everything we do here today in this school right now molds you for the future,” DiNoto said.
Veterans, DiNoto continued, are people who have ventured into peril because they were in “the place” with “the right attributes” required to make the journey.
“We go to give back and defend Newtown and the thousand other towns like it, inhabited by some of the best people I have ever known, people who have taken Karim under their wing ...” said DiNoto.
Reminding the audience of the assured security that Carr had spoken about veterans providing, DiNoto said that when Ahmadi made his fourth attempt to leave Afghanistan, he finally arrived a few feet from US Marines, standing at the perimeter of Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Ahmadi collapsed and sat for hours upon hours.
“Being just feet from a 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal not much older than you guys are right now, I could hear the relief of safety in his voice for the first time in weeks after he had been hunkered down,” DiNoto remembered. He added later, “That’s what it is all about. Our veterans offer hope to the oppressed.”
Throughout the event, the NHS Singers and NHS Wind Ensemble offered musical performances. American Legion Post 202 District Commander Nick Cabral and Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue also spoke at the event.The Newtown Bee.
A story on Cabral presenting this year’s American Legion Post Community Americanism Award at the event will be in the November 26 print edition of
Following the assembly, many found DiNoto and Ahmadi in the auditorium. Veterans shook hands with the pair.
A World War II veteran shook Ahmadi’s hand and said, “Welcome to Newtown.”
Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.