Schools throughout West Hartford held special Veterans Day celebrations on Nov. 11, including the annual assembly at Charter Oak International Academy.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Public Schools students don’t have the day off on Veterans Day, but instead each school holds some type of program to mark the occasion, in most cases inviting veterans to participate.
Charter Oak International Academy began the morning with the entire school community gathered in the auditorium for the annual Veterans Day ceremony. Seated on the stage were several dozen veterans – including a few who are parents of current students – and many town and school officials were in the audience.
The ceremony began with Sedgwick Middle School’s “First String” group’s playing of “God Bless America,” followed by Patrick Whalen’s bagpipe processional down the aisles of the auditorium.
All were silent as the windows behind the stage opened and Air National Guard Sgt. Mark Benedetto and 143rd Military Police Staff Sgt. Catonguay raised the flag in the school’s courtyard, and all kept their hands over their hearts as student Hailee Maloney led the Pledge of Allegiance.
SFC Juan Cruz, a Charter Oak parent, was joined by student Dalila Rodrigues for the singing of the National Anthem, and a moment of silence followed the Suzuki Tour Group’s playing of “America the Beautiful.”
Student Arnav Kandel officially welcomed and read a salute to veterans and those currently serving as special guests, noting the long tradition at Charter Oak of honoring veterans. Nicholas Cruz read a poem entitled “Our Lasting Respect and Gratitude.”
One-by-one, a group of students from all grade levels stepped up to the podium, sharing their personal remarks to end a phrase that began with “At this moment …”
“I thank you for helping us have a good school so we can learn to be good citizens and respect everyone … I thank you for serving our country … I thank my grandpa for he is a brave veteran … I thank my dad for protecting the world … I thank you for protecting our country … I thank you for fighting for our freedom … I thank you for making our country a peaceful place to live without fear … I thank you for saving people’s lives that are in danger … I thank you for being so brave … I thank you for saving the world from people who try to hurt us,” were some of the student’s heartfelt statements.
Two students who spoke had parents seated on the stage, and as the stood at the podium they asked their parents to stand. One thanked his mom, who was accompanied by her service dog, and said, “I thank my mom for serving in the military and protecting our nation, and I thank my dad for helping her with the injury she has due to war.”
Another asked his dad to stand, thanking him “for being so brave and serving our country to protect everyone and being a good role model for me.”
The celebration also included the singing of “My Flag” by Alison Collins’ first grade students, reading of the poem “I Do Not Your Name” by Valerie Nunez, and presentation of a $651 donation to Operation E.L.F. by Gia Gwara.
Fatima Wahidi read a tribute to Leo Lattizori, a U.S. Navy Korean War veteran who always attended Charter Oak’s celebrations and shared stories with the students until he passed away last year. Members of the Lattizori family were in attendance for the ceremony Monday. “We will continue to remember him every Veterans Day,” Fatima said.
Students Sophia Moutinho, Annabelle Fletcher, James Guitierrez, and Aiden Colon solemnly laid a wreath at the base of the flagpole, and the ceremony concluded with Andrew Hopko playing the somber notes of “Taps.”
Paraprofessional Janet Fournier has organized Charter Oak’s Veterans Day ceremonies “informally” for 20 years, and formally for the past 15 years, she said.
She said she is always inspired by “my love for my country, my love for people who defend our country, and children.”
Veterans, families, and other guests remained at Charter Oak after the ceremony and enjoyed a special breakfast.
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