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Veterans Honored Across The School District



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Veterans Honored Across The School District

By Nancy K. Crevier & Eliza Hallabeck

The gymnasium floor at Hawley Elementary School undulated with the colors of the American flag Thursday morning, November 11, as kindergartner through fourth grade students filled the room, dressed in red, white, and blue in honor of Veterans Day.

Each public school in Newtown celebrated the day in its own way. At Middle Gate School a community circle was held in the afternoon and included songs performed by students; at Sandy Hook School veterans were welcomed by students for a breakfast and individual visits to classrooms; at Reed Intermediate School separate classes observed the day in different ways; and at Newtown High School the auditorium was packed after a luncheon for veterans was held to both thank and recognize the veterans in attendance.

A video and slideshow from the day’s events is available at www.newtownbee.com.

Sandy Hook School

A special guest enjoyed breakfast along with the grandparents, parents, and other relatives, or parent figures of Sandy Hook Elementary School students on Tuesday morning.

US Army 102 Infantry Division Sergeant Mark Wagner explained he was not related to a student like the other invited guests for the day, but, instead, had been invited after meeting Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung the week before.

Last November Sgt Wagner’s division left for Afghanistan, and later received letters from Sandy Hook School third and fourth grade students through Newtown’s Valentines For Troops program.

“We wrote them back,” he said, “and we were planning on meeting the children when we arrived back.”

The division just arrived this month, and, he said, “Everybody is back home safe now.”

As he was driving back from Fort Drum in New York last week, Sgt Wagner noticed a “Sandy Hook” sign on I-84.

“So I pulled off the road, and I found the elementary school,” Sgt Wagner said. This was around 5:30 am, but Ms Hochsprung happened to be at work early that day. “And I just came in and wanted to thank her and her kids for writing us those letters, because it really meant a lot to us while we were over there in Afghanistan.”

Sgt Wagner was later invited back to the school to celebrate Veterans Day with the students. He brought with him photos of the division from Afghanistan, and photos of a dog, named Snowball, the division rescued while there.

Sgt Wagner said many good things are happening in Afghanistan, like building schools in the area.

A long table was set with food in a buffet style as students and welcomed veterans ate breakfast while school PTA volunteers worked to keep everything organized.


Middle Gate School

Middle Gate Elementary School students culminated a “13 Stripes” celebration on Veterans Day. For 13 days leading up to the holiday, Middle Gate students learned new information about Veterans Day over the loudspeaker each morning, and unfolded a new stripe on the American Flag each day.

Linda Baron, who headed the Veterans Day effort at the school, said the program was last held nine years ago.

This year, Ms Baron said the day before Veterans Day, the school wanted to bring the Veterans Day celebration back, “and just really make it glorious.”

On Wednesday, Sergeant Samuel Dolan and Sergeant Derek Brookshire from the Danbury US Army Recruiting center spoke to students outside the school to prepare the students for Veterans Day. Sgt Brookshire demonstrated gear soldiers wear and Sgt Dolan answered questions about his service and the Humvee.

The school also had a “White Table” set up in the school to honor soldiers who were prisoners of war or missing in action.

By the end of the day on Thursday, Middle Gate was ready for a full-school community circle to honor the holiday. The event included students singing, lead by music teacher Tina Jones.

During the ceremony, Ms Baron asked all veterans in attendance to stand.

“These courageous men and women served our country well,” she said.

Middle Gate students also heard an important announcement near the end of the Veterans Day assembly. Michael Brown, a 26-year serviceman and father to kindergarten student Margaret Brown and third grader Michael Brown, was returning home from Afghanistan as the ceremony was being held.

Hawley School

In introducing the children, staff, and invited veterans of the armed services to the Hawley School Veterans Day ceremony November 11, school Principal JoAnn Peters-Edmondson said the event was “in honor of our veterans who have served, and who are serving….”

Following the recognition of veterans in attendance by lead teacher Chris Breyan, Cub Scout members Andrew Gardner, Nicholas Jacobs, and William Wallace presented the flag and led the audience in The Pledge of Allegiance. Fourth grade student Avi Bialik then explained the meaning of the Moment of Silence. “There is a two-minute silence held at 11 am,” read Avi from her notes, “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, which in 1918 marked the ending of World War I. The silence is held as a sign of respect….”

When Chief Master Sergeant Angelo Marino stepped up to the podium, it was to clarify to the young audience the upcoming “The White Table” ceremony, a military tradition begun by pilots during the Vietnam era. The small table is set in honor of soldiers lost in battle, missing in action, or captured as prisoners of war. The single place setting represents the pilots’ pledge that they “would never give up waiting for [the missing soldiers] to return,” said Sgt Marino. It is a tradition that has spread through all branches of the military, he told the students, and soldiers continue “even now, to set a White Table for lost and fallen soldiers.”

One by one, Hawley students Katie and Elliot Lurie, Emily Longo, Gloria Rowley, Brigette Marino, Liam O’Sullivan, Leo Brosnan, Nolan Adis, Julia Gerace, and Jack Wojtowicz then stepped forward to place the table on stage and set it, each item a meaningful symbol.

The table itself shows one soldier’s lonely battle and the everlasting concern for missing soldiers, and the white tablecloth honors a soldier’s pure heart.

The single plate symbolizes those missing in action, and a black napkin is laid upon the plate “for the emptiness he has left in the hearts of his family and friends.”

A single red rose in a vase signifies the faith of loved ones who wait for answers, while the red, white, and blue ribbon tied to the vase represent love of country.

Upon the plate is placed a slice of lemon, a reminder of the bitter fate of those captured and missing. Salt is sprinkled on the plate, the tears of families left behind.

A glass held high and swiftly turned upside down before placing it on the table is a representation of the meal that will not be eaten.

The empty chair is for the missing soldiers, and finally, a white candle is set on the table, a sign of hope and peace to light the way home.

First through fourth grade children at Hawley School had been introduced to the tradition of the White Table, said Mr Breyan, by their teachers, who read the picture book America’s White Table by Margot Theis Raven, and illustrated by Mike Benny, prior to the November 11 ceremony.

Reed Intermediate School

Individual classes honored Veterans Day in their own way at Reed Intermediate School. In Lil Martenson and Petrice DiVanno’s fifth grade class, students had also prepared for Veterans Day by reading America’s White Table.

The table was also set up in the school’s main lobby next to a wall of photos and descriptions of veterans students collected.

As a special celebration on Veterans Day, Reed Intermediate School head custodian Ron Patterson, Sr, and Jesse Bailey, Jr, an electrician for the Newtown Public Schools District, spoke to the combined classes. Mr Bailey served in the Navy from 1974 until 1976, and during the Vietnam War. Mr Patterson served in the Army in Okinawa during the Vietnam War.

“If we never had veterans, we wouldn’t have a country,” Mr Bailey told the students. There are a lot of ways students can show respect for veterans, Mr Bailey explained, and some of those include volunteering to help disabled veterans and becoming active members of the community.

Mr Patterson explained there are many occupations in the Army, and he repaired all weapons that were placed before him, big and small.

“My experience in the Army were some of the best years of my life,” said Mr Patterson, adding he met so many people who became family.


Newtown High School

Newtown High School hosted its sixth annual Newtown High School Veterans Day luncheon and assembly. Food for the luncheon was prepared by NHS Culinary students, and just under 100 local veterans attended the day’s ceremony.

During the assembly, speaker William Rodgers, a member of Newtown’s Board of Selectmen, said he retired from service in 2009.

“Every veteran has engaged in personal sacrifice for the greater good,” Mr Rodgers told the students, explaining those sacrifices ranged from being separated from family members to standing outside in cold weather. And, he said, every veteran is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Mr Rodgers went on to say he finds most veterans are uncomfortable with being thanked, unless it is truly meant. He encouraged students to be good citizens, become engaged in public activities as a form of “thank you” to veterans.

The Connecticut Army National Guard 102d Army Band played during the assembly, and NHS seniors Katie Cummings and Matthew Madden sang separate songs with the group. Wind ensemble students also played along with the visiting band.

The assembly was held for freshman and sophomore students this year. NHS staff who have served were also honored during the event, along with those relatives connected to the school who had served.

For video from the day’s events and for more photos go to www.newtownbee.com.

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