WHITMAN — Students, faculty and honored guests paid homage to those who have served — and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice — in the nation’s uniformed services during Duval School’s 12th annual We Remember program Friday, May 22.
Guests included members of the Duval family, Veterans Services Officer Tom McCarthy, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner, Selectmen Daniel Salvucci and Scott Lambiase, Fire Chief Timothy Grenno and retired Navy Seal Anthony O’Brien. Many parents also attended the program.
“We’re honored that so many people wanted to join us this morning to teach a valuable life-long lesson to the future citizens sitting in front of us,” said Principal Julie McKillop.
Fifth-grader Patrick McBroom led the school and guests in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by fifth-grader Michaela Happeny’s performance of the national anthem.
Salvucci then spoke on the importance of respecting the American flag for which so many have fought and died.
He brought a display case built by one of his sons to display the WWII service medals, uniform patch and dog tags of his late father in-law Mark A. “Tony” Merline, who was a Navy Seabee. The case also holds a photo of Merline in uniform and an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol in his name.
“He honored the flag of the United States with his heart and soul,” Salvucci said. “He felt that the United States has gone to war to free people … and while that freedom includes the right to disrespect the flag, it doesn’t make it right.”
The sacrifices of soldiers for the flag demands respect, he said.
O’Brien then followed his own tradition of having a handful of fifth-grade students dress in his old camouflage fatigue uniform blouses and covers to salute the five branches of the military.
“While you say thank you to us for our service, we say thank you to you — our teachers, our brothers in uniform on the fire and police departments — for your service as well,” O’Brien said. “[But] this weekend is about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
He told the children that the best way to honor the dead is by helping the living and asked for a show of hands by those who would start on Tuesday to be helpers at home, the community and in school. Hands shot up all over the gym.
Marine Corps veteran McCarthy thanked the school for the moving ceremony, one of several he was attending over the weekend.
“This weekend isn’t all about barbecues and having a good time with your family,” he said. “Please remember to thank a veteran when you see them — it’s important. There’s a lot of veterans who never got thanked in the past.”
He also encouraged the students to go to the Memorial Day parade.
“There’s been a lot of drop in participation at the parade,” McCarthy said. “If you can make it we’d love to see you there.”
Students sang patriotic songs and read original poems and essays as well as reciting passages from The Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, “The Gettysburg Address” and Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus” — written in 1883 and engraved in a bronze plaque placed at the Statue of Liberty in 1903.
“We are free because of these brave men who honored freedom in front of themselves,” student Joshua Scott read from an essay he wrote.
The program concluded with students and staff members placing small flags on a wreath in honor of family members who served in the military, followed by a moment of silence and the singing of “God Bless America.”
Fifth-graders serving as escorts then presented red carnations to the honored guests before escorting them to the library for a reception.