WHITMAN — Under a giant American flag, the Duval Elementary School’s students, faculty and some parents gathered in the school gym Friday, May 26 to kick off Memorial Day weekend with the school’s 13th annual We Remember program.
The school welcomed special guests selectmen Scott Lambiase, Randy LaMattina and Dan Salvucci, Town Administrator Frank Lynam, Fire Chief Timothy Grenno, Veterans’ Agent Thomas McCarthy, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patrick Dillon — who is a lieutenant in the Coast Guard — and members of the Duval family at the event.
Retired Navy SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Anthony O’Brien also attended to lead a group of students, clad in his old fatigue blouses and covers, in saluting the five branches of the armed services with a loud shout of, “Thank you for your service!”
“It is so important that we have you come here to help teach all of our friends that are with us how important it is to pause this weekend and remember the men and women who have sacrificed so much for all of us,” Principal Julie McKillop said in her welcoming remarks.
But the students were the primary participants in the event, as a handful read from reports, poems and letters to veterans in honor of service to country before the student body sang “America,” and “God Bless America.”
“We would like to thank all of our special guests who took the time to be with us today to help us remember the brave men and women who have given their service and lives for their country,” said fifth-grader David Nourse in his welcome on behalf of his fellow students. “We are honored to have you join us in our celebration.”
Nourse singled out Dillon and school gym teacher Patrick Kennedy, a Marine reservist currently on a humanitarian deployment to Hondouras, thanking them for their service.
Students and Duval staff members also placed tiny American flags on a wreath for display in the lobby in honor of relatives who have served their country.
“You help protect us and keep us safe. When people are doing bad things, you protect us through it all,” student Kelsey Fitzgerald read from her letter to veterans. “You are awesome and brave. Thank you, soldiers.”
“Inside every soldier, there’s a heart, and inside every heart, there is love,” read Brailey Murphy from her essay. “In every heart there is bravery — more bravery than anyone can imagine — it all comes from the love. … It makes you strong. It makes you bold. It makes you a soldier.”
The school’s fourth-grade class also presented with donated personal care items to Jason Gray, a representative of the Brockton VA Hospital.
“I understand a lot of hard work went into this, and we thank you very much,” Gray said before pledging to leave immediately to deliver the “conference room full of stuff” to the veterans to whom it was donated. “Thank you for working so hard for us — our country and our veterans — it’s what you give back to your community.”
Salvucci noted the huge American flag dominating the gym wall behind the speakers’ podium as he honored his late father in-law, a World War II veteran who had served in the Normandy invasion and transferred to the Pacific after the war in Europe had been won. Salvucci said the Duval program is his favorite event because he gets to talk about his father in-law’s service and his devotion to the flag.
“I always carry an American flag — when you see me marching, I’m carrying this small flag,” he said as he took the flag out of his breast pocket. “This year, when I walked into this room and I saw this American flag, my heart stopped. I want to thank you.”
O’Brien, too, said he was impressed by the giant flag, adding that, for some, Memorial Day is every day.
“If you served in combat, you’ve seen too many caskets with [our] flag on it,” he said. “So, to see that flag is extra special.”
He noted that only 1 percent of the American public serves in the military, and only 6 percent of Americans are veterans, adding that teachers, town officials and public safety personnel should also be thanked for their service to their community. He asked the students to think of those who are serving in uniform now or have served in the past as they honor those who have died in service to their country over the weekend.
More students followed O’Brien, including Camryn Tarr, reading her essay on Betsey Ross and Livia Saya, who read from her paper on the bald eagle. Kathryn Ward, Nathan Smith and Brooklyn Uzzell read from their original poems and Lillie MacKinnon, Van Le and Ariana Beane read from their letters to veterans.
“Thank you for protecting us and all you’ve done for us,” Le read from his letter. “Because of you, we can be safe from harm. Keep up the good work.”
Student leaders then presented red carnations to the special guests and escorted them to the library for a breakfast reception and gave them hand-written thank you letters.