by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — A national program designed to put veterans in the classrooms of America took aim at Harry F. Abate Elementary Wednesday. The result brought more than 30 veterans - serving in conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq - through the school's doors for a chance to sit down and converse with the youngest students in the Niagara Falls City School District.
As part of the Take A Vet To School Day, a program made possible by The History Channel and Time Warner Cable, the veterans were honored by a special ceremony featuring medal presentations, a flag ceremony and a state proclamation presented by Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane.
"There are some things we just cannot teach," Falls district superintendent Cynthia Bianco said. "What it means to serve our country, what it means to sacrifice for all of us. It's these things which you are the teachers of."
"Listen to what the veterans have to say," Maziarz told the students in attendance. "You can learn from their life experiences."
Many of the veterans in attendance – and many other audience members – found themselves getting emotional as they were introduced by name, one-by-one to large ovations. The veterans then turned the tables on the gathered students, giving them a rousing applause after they sang patriotic songs and read special poems for the occasion.
The medal ceremony also brought some in the audience to tears.
Sanborn resident Bruce Poole, an Army National Guard member who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005, was on hand to receive a medal and said the event was a "humbling" experience.
"You never expect things like this," Poole said. "We have close friends whose kids go to school here and when they found out about this program, I was the first person they thought of."
He said the attitudes of the children involved is really refreshing, especially with the political climate of the day and the sometimes lack of patriotism in the United States.
But the children are a different story, he said.
"We hear so much about what's wrong in this country or that there's no more patriotism in the U.S.," he said. "But it's nice to see young people this age who still believe in it. It kind of reminds you why you served in the first place."
In fact, Falls Mayor Paul Dyster kicked off his remarks during Wednesday's ceremony by asking the gathered children if any of them consider growing up and serving in the armed forces in some capacity to defend the country. Almost every single one of the nearly 100 in the auditorium raised his or her hand in response.
While the order of the day was to learn, another message was also repeated numerous times during the ceremony. The students were reminded to be thankful to the veterans for their service, a message many non-students often forget amongst busy lives.
Dyster and Abate Principal Diane Coty both reminded the audience to appreciate the sacrifices the men and women who serve in the armed forces give every day so citizens can enjoy the many freedoms guaranteed in this country.
"It's important for us who are not in the military to remember we have people fighting in foreign countries right now," Dyster said. "They need our support and they need our help."
"To all our veterans, we have a simple, heart-felt message for you: Thank you," Coty added.