Veterans were honored this Memorial Day by Florence Roche Elementary School and the Groton-Dunstable Middle School, each with their own patriotic celebration, tailored to students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
The celebration at Florence Roche, under blue skies, began with students holding a larger-than-life American flag constructed from blue and white paper with red stripes of students’ handprints. Jessica Liliedahl, fourth grade, and teacher Mrs. Taylor came up with the patriotic project.
“We are teaching students how to show respect to our servicemen and women and display patriotism to the country,” said Principal Ruthann Petruno Goguen.
To share this honor with the community, the flags (5 1/2 by 10 1/2 feet) are currently on display at Groton’s public library and post office.
Wearing hand-crafted patriotic hats, kindergarten through fourth grade students recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang patriotic songs and welcomed special guests. State Rep. Sheila Harrington stood before a field of red, white and blue, simply said, “Take a minute — show respect, honor those who have served.”
Suzanne Ricard, staff, was seated with her son, Staff Sgt. Michael Ricard, Army National Guard. He thanked students for the many cards received and said that on the following day, he would return to his third tour in Iraq.
Little voices rang out with “Yankee Doodle,” then Adam Burnett, of the United States Army Corps of Civil Engineering, was proudly introduced by his son, second-grader Alexander. Burnett shared his story of working six months in Afghanistan, building hospitals and roads under the protection of our service men. He spoke of the joy in giving toys collected at Florence Roche to orphans in Kabul and hundreds of backpacks containing school supplies.
At the middle school, the observance was heartfelt and genuine. The gymnasium decorated red, white and blue, was filled with music, history, essays and a soldier. The ceremony began with an explanation, given by Principal Steve Silverman, of the true meaning of Memorial Day and its history. He told students, “It is a day of respect and remembrance for those who have given their lives to maintain our freedom, peace and liberty.”
The chorus and band performed “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Salute to the U.S.A.” and “Echoes of the Civil War.” Students from each grade read essays about what Memorial Day means to them. Reading her essay, eighth-grader Laura Henderson quoted Emily Dickinson: “Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality,” and added, “we continue living without them.”
Keynote speaker United States Army Staff Sgt. Michael Downin traveled from Salem. Impressed with the essays, he addressed students about the importance of Memorial Day and shared his recent visit to Washington, D.C. Using simple math, he put into perspective the number of fallen heroes who have sacrificed their lives since the Revolution. “They would not fit into 22 Fenway Parks, 2,817 Boeing jumbo jets or 11,307 school buses and to honor each fallen soldier with a day of their own, it would take 2,323 years, 3 months, 5 days.”
Downin then explained the history of Memorial Day, tracing back to the first observance, May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. After World War I, it was extended to the fallen of all the nation’s wars. He challenged all ages to take just one day to remember and reflect on those men and women who protect our freedom as Americans. “To protect what we hold most dear — life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Both schools concluded with taps, played with recorder by elementary school children and trumpet at middle school, followed by a moment of silence to recognize all those who have served our country.