HPS Honors Veterans in a Moving Celebration
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I formally ended when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. For decades this day was celebrated in the United States as Armistice Day. In 1954 the holiday was renamed Veterans Day.
Veterans Day is when America shows its gratitude and pride in the heroism of those who gave of themselves in the country’s service.
Ten years ago, Beth Figari and Diane Phelan had a conversation about how students did not know what Veterans Day is or why we observe it. Diane’s nephew was in the Marines on active duty at the time. Beth’s son, Jason, and his unit were coming home a week or so before Veterans Day. Beth and Diane agreed to do something to bring awareness to the children.
Phoebe Czachor was recruited to do a video. She asked the staff to submit photos of family members. Music Teacher Tess Wray-Dolgin taught the classes patriotic music. Beth Figari became the committee chair for the four-member original committee. Hauppauge High School Music Teacher Mark Kimes was asked to speak as a reservist. He spoke to the children and explained what it was to be a veteran.
Jason Figari and his unit came home just a few days before the assembly. They were the only veterans invited the first year. When these Marines arrived at Bretton Woods for the assembly they looked “shell shocked.” They were just getting used to being home and were overwhelmed with the welcome they received from Bretton Woods. During the speeches and songs these young men were very emotional and cried. It was a very emotional assembly for all.
This year, close to sixty veterans were in attendance. To see the sea of young faces filling the gymnasium, it is easy to appreciate the value of the service men and women who dedicated their lives to ensure that these innocent young students will grow up to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that is the American dream. And when the children stood, faced the veterans and sang “God Bless America,” many tears filled the eyes of the adults in attendance.
Principal Gagliardi invited several guest speakers to the podium to share their unique perspective of what Veterans Day means to them. The first was Hauppauge High School Music Teacher, Mark Kimes who served as Chief Warrant Officer 3 of the Army National Guard. Mr. Kimes was followed by students from each of the four Bretton Woods 5th grade classes.
Mr. Kimes said, “Good Afternoon distinguished guests, Mr. Gagliardi, Dr. Dennis O’Hara, Mr. Fortmeyer, Mr. Scarito, Mr. Buscarino, Brigadier General Robert Algar, the wonderful music teachers Tess Wray-Dolgin, Gina Koehler, the committee members Beth Figari, Diane Phelan, and Phoebe Czachor, students of Bretton Woods Elementary School, and most importantly, the Veterans from all of our Armed services; the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marines and the Army.
It is, as always, an honor for me to be here today to speak to you about Veterans and Veterans Day, and I am humbled to be among these Veterans that you see before you. They have all served their country in the Armed Forces or continue to serve now. Their presence today helps remind us of why we celebrate Veterans Day and why we, as a Nation, take a day off tomorrow.
Over the past few weeks, I have been pondering the significance of Veterans Day. Historically, the day came about as a result of the country wanting to honor its veterans after Armistice Day at the end of World War I. The treaty to end WWI was signed on the 11th month, the 11th day, the 11th hour, of 1918. The country thought it should be a day to celebrate all veterans and their service to the nation.
Today, when I look at these proud and honorable service members before you, I think about what they represent and I think about the symbol that binds us all together as veterans and what binds us all together as Americans. That symbol is all around us today and I want to share with you what it means to me personally.
The Flag of the United States of America, our flag, symbolizes all that is good about our country. To me, the flag represents the sacrifices that these brave men and women have endured so that we can live a free life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it also symbolizes much more than that. It symbolizes all of the incredible history of hardship and strife that we have endured as a country, the growing pains of our country, the wonderful advancements in human rights and freedoms, and how lucky I feel to be a part of that history. In essence, that flag of ours is a showcase of all that we are as a country and what we will become in the future.
Thinking about our forefathers, the signers of the declaration of independence must have been some of the bravest men ever to live. You may recognize some of their names; John Hancock (the one who signed so big because he wanted King George of Great Britain, who was almost blind to see it) John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and then William Floyd, whom you may know from here on Long Island. They knew by signing this declaration of independence that they were signing their death sentence and jeopardizing the lives of their families. They did this gladly in the name of freedom and liberty from the tyranny of England and the King. This incredible act of bravery lead to the beginning of our great nation. So, the flag represents them and their bravery.
Our flag, to me, is a symbol of our ability to overcome evil in our country and throughout the world. It represents the outcome of the civil war, where slaves were set free. We fought a war, in part, to rid the country of slavery and we accomplished that. Our flag represents the women’s suffrage movement, where women marched for the right to vote, and gained that right in 1920.
The flag symbolizes our commitment as a country to rid the world of evil. The brave military men and women of World War II in the 1940’s stood up to, and defeated the Nazi regime in Europe, one of the most heinous and despicable scourges this world had ever seen. We met communism head on in Korea and Vietnam, where men and women sacrificed their lives to hold the USSR (now Russia) aggression at bay. I’m sure we have a few Vietnam veterans here today, and Korean war vets too.
Our flag symbolizes the great civil rights activist Martin Luther King Junior and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in which he declared freedom and equality for all United States citizens, no matter what their race. This brought on a host of changes in our country to include desegregation in our schools.
Our flag represents to me, our continued desire to rid the world of evil in our fight against terrorism. Many of these men and women have been a part of that war on terror. They have sacrificed time away from their families, time away from home, putting their life on the line for all of us sitting here today.
Our flag represents our ability as a country to adapt and overcome challenges. We have continuously done this since the inception of our country and I have faith that we will continue to do this, in large part, due to our rich and proud heritage and because of the efforts of our military men and women willing to fight for our cause.
On a completely personal level, that flag represents to me how lucky I am to wake up every morning and work with all the fantastic students at Hauppauge High School. As the choral director at the High School, I get to create music and be a part of something extraordinary every morning. I grew up rather poor and all I ever wanted to do was be a high school music
teacher. This country gave me that opportunity to attend public schools and, through the military, I was able to go to college and become a music teacher. I am literally living the dream.
Thank you for allowing me to share my personal thoughts with you today. I hope as you enjoy a day off tomorrow, you will take time to thank a Veteran for their service, thank them for their sacrifice to this great nation and take a moment to reflect on how lucky we are to live in this great nation and what that great flag symbolizes to you.”
Mr. Kimes was met with a tremendous ovation. Principal Gagliardi invited four 5th grade students to share their feelings on what Veterans Day means to them.
Sai said, “Dear veterans, thank you for everything you do, to protect our country. Your contribution to this country is something that can't be measured and you mean a lot to us. You risk your lives to safeguard our country all the time and because of you, millions of people within our country are enjoying a safe and happy life.
We all respect you for your bravery, courage, and the great sacrifices you make, being on the front lines, leaving your families behind, while we lead peaceful and joyful lives with our friends and families. Sometimes, I try to imagine myself in your place and that makes me frightened. Being in the military is not just a job or a role to play, it's a tremendous responsibility that you take and vow to accept any challenges that come your way. You are truly selfless, because you are serving this country not for your benefit, but for the millions of people who you do not know directly.
Most of the time, people appreciate your service to the country, but no one really thinks about your families, who deserve appreciation and respect for their support in helping you deliver your job responsibilities effectively.
It gives me great pride, when I say the pledge every morning in school, because it reminds me of your great sacrifices and service to the country. You are our real heroes and we truly respect you all the time.
Once again, thank you for making our lives peaceful in this country. It is because of you that we are all safe and free.”
Keira said, “Veterans Day is a day when you celebrate the people who gave their lives for our protection or are still defending our country today. Whether it is a relative or friend, it is a day to honor those who serve. It is also a day to celebrate the freedom of our country.
Veterans Day is so much more important than you think. People you don't even know died to protect our freedom and our nation.
Both of my grandpas served during the Korean War and sadly they have both recently passed away. I still cherish them to this day and I sing patriotic songs to remind me of the veterans and of my two grandpas.
I want you to think as you leave today, about all the veterans who are serving our country. There are organizations that you can donate items or money to which benefit veterans who have come back wounded. Or even just a simple thank you can make a veteran smile.
Thank you, veterans, for all that you have done. This is what Veterans Day means to me.”
Kaitlyn said, “Veterans Day is a very special holiday we observe in the United States of America. This holiday represents all the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War. We honor them for all their sacrifices and service to this country. Veterans Day is a special holiday to me because, my family and I celebrate how lucky we are to be here today. I have four family members who are veterans.
-Christopher Wilson, served in the Marines
-Kevin Gleeson served in the Army
-My Grandpa Peter served in the Korean War
-My Grandpa Mark served in the Vietnam War.
I am so grateful that many veterans came home after serving.
I would like to share a poem that I wrote:
V - vests are important to wear when fighting
E - eating is important to keep good health
T - timing is everything, get your moment right
E - everyone is counting on you
R - rain doesn't stop you!
A - a lot of training is needed to protect and stay safe
N - November 11th is the Special Day to remember and honor
S - serving is important
D - day of parades to honor our veterans
A - a big thanks to all veterans and their families for all of their sacrifices
Y - yes, it is important to always remember those who fought for our Freedoms. We would not be here today without them.
Thank you for your service.”
Brianna said, “ Our service men and women should be honored and remembered every day, not just on Veterans Day. I am proud to say that both of my grandfathers fought in the Vietnam War and my great grandfathers fought in World War II. The dedication they put into serving our country to keep us all safe and free is amazing. When I think of Veterans Day, I remember the saying, ‘home of the free because of the brave.’ These men and women fight every day for our country, for our freedom, sacrifice their lives and time away from their families for us, for every American. That is what Veterans Day means to me.”
Principal Gagliardi recognized the hard work and dedication of Beth Figari and Phoebe Czachor in creating and organizing this wonderful event. He presented them both with flowers and wished them well as they prepare for retirement at the end of this school year.