Windham fourth graders teamed with members of Center Stage for the Performing Arts in Raymond in a special ceremony for local veterans this week at Manchester School. The tribute, dedicated to all local men and women who have served, was the 20th anniversary of the Veterans Day observance held at the school.
Both the students and veterans from Windham’s Veterans of Foreign Wars addressed each other during the event. Bob Akins, past commander, shared stories and addressed the special meaning of the holiday, while students proudly displayed their Wall of Heroes, which featured pictures and stories of relatives who have served.
Akins and other legion guests said the purpose of the annual assembly is to teach about freedom and Americanism.
“To let them know what freedom is, and how freedom isn’t free. As veterans it’s our duty to educate youth on the meaning of patriotism and what is special about our country,” said Akins.
A highlight was a masterfully choreographed performance by girls from Center Stage who marched, sang and danced to a variety of patriotic songs and themes.
Akins paid special tribute to John Spring, Jr., a US Marine veteran from Windham, who led a unit during a fire fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Spring dragged a wounded soldier to safety during the fight, and then returned to cover the injured man’s machine gun, for which he was awarded a bronze star. Spring, Akins pointed out, sat in this building as a fourth grader during the first Manchester School veterans assembly back in 1996.
At one point the kids were given a Veterans Day quiz. Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander Willie Goodman asked what Veterans Day used to be called (Armistice Day); what year it was declared a federal holiday (1938); the significance of 11/11/11 (the date we pause to remember veterans at 11 a.m.); and the official flower symbol of Veterans Day (the poppy). A surprising number of the fourth graders knew the answers, but most thought the flower would be the rose.
The significance of the occasion was brought closer to the students following the ceremony when veterans and kids together visited the large hallway bulletin board dubbed Wall of Heroes. Students in teacher Carol Otley’s class had posted the names and pictures of family members who were veterans, enshrined within stars cut from construction paper along with their rank, service pictures, years served and brief stories. The two groups lingered, shared and answered questions before concluding the special day.
Asked about the morning program, shared with veterans in full dress uniforms, several students from Mrs. Otley’s class shared their thoughts:
“I feel proud to be related to someone who was so amazing and brave.” Molly Plati, 10, stated proudly.
“I appreciate how they fought for us and risked their lives,” said 9-year-old Hannah Bowker.
Mia White, 10, said, “I feel important that I have a veteran in my family. They risked their lives.”