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Townsend contest winners present wreath at Arlington

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TOWNSEND — The eighth-grade class from Hawthorne Brook Middle School spent four action-packed days at the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C., in April, and the itinerary included a solemn occasion for a quartet of contest winners in the class.

Students Dan Morico, Danielle Pool, Sage McPherson, and Haley Lynch, took part in a changing-of-the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery during the trip, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as a token of respect to the nation’s fallen service men and women.

Speaking afterwards, they described the occasion as memorable and unique.

“It was a great experience, said Pool. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

“It was a special honor to do that,” added Lynch.

The students earned the honor by submitting the best essays about what it means to be an American, said history teacher Tom Higgins. He said the contest is done in conjunction with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, adding those things have been annual traditions at the school for at least a decade.

Established by the federal government after the Civil War, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 300,000 veterans, ranging from the American Revolution to modern times.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument to fallen soldiers who could not be identified. The tradition dates back to World War I.

According to the cemetery website, the gift of a flowers at a memorial is a worldwide tradition, which speaks to the beauty and brevity of life. Members of the public and school children are regularly allowed to participate in such ceremonies at Arlington, provided a written request is submitted five weeks in advance and it’s approved.

Math teacher Karen Capizzi was a chaperone for the recent Hawthorne Brook trip. She said the students appreciated the solemnity of the occasion. She was also optimistic it gives them a new perspective on history.

“It helps them to realize what has come before them in this country” she said. “To see them participate and really understand what people have given up to have freedom in this county, it means a lot to them, and it means a lot to us to see it on their faces.”