Photos and story by Nick Diamantides
On Tuesday morning, the entire student body (235 students) of St. Barnabas Parish School, their teachers and some of their parents paid tribute to those who served or are now serving the United States in one of the branches of the military. The pupils gathered in the school’s auditorium to hear short speeches made by members of the U.S Navy and a U.S. Army chaplain.
“This is a pretty touching event for us guys in the military,” said Navy Petty Officer Daniel McDonald, adding that he was pleased to see the school’s Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts participating in the ceremony. “You’d be amazed to know how many guys who are in the military today were in the Boy Scouts in their younger years,” he said.
McDonald, who helped initiate the school’s Veterans Day ceremonies five years ago, is a member of the U.S. Naval Construction Force, also known as the Seabees. He recently returned from a six-and-one-half month tour of duty in Iraq.
Before he described his experiences there, he introduced Captain Mark Chung, a Navy doctor who also recently returned from Iraq. “Iraqi children are just like kids in the United States,” Chung told the audience. “They aspire to be happy, have friends, be healthy.” Then he told the audience that he was going to show computer-projected photographs of children in Iraq. He did so, but to everyone’s surprise, the photos were interspersed with pictures of St. Barnabas pupils. The kids squealed with laughter every time they saw a photo of one of their classmates.
Chung told the audience that one of the primary missions of the U.S. armed forces is to protect children. “We are in uniform to spread peace throughout the world so that you children will have a safer future,” he said. “One day perhaps it will be your turn to wear a uniform and serve our country.” Chung also reminded the kids in the audience to be thankful for their parents, their school, their churches, their homes, the food they eat, and a safe place to sleep. “The children in Iraq are thankful for what little they have,” he said. “But we have so much more.”
After Chung’s comments, U.S. Army Chaplain Harry Brown took the microphone to lead the congregation in prayer. He thanked military veterans all over the world and asked God to enable America’s military to protect oppressed people in other parts of the world so they can have the same kind of freedom and safety that is enjoyed by most Americans.
U.S Navy Chief David Boone, who recently returned from a tour of duty in Africa, also addressed the audience. “I really appreciate you guys coming in here and displaying your patriotism for all the veterans,” he said. “We could not be bold without your support.”
Later, McDonald showed videos of his experiences in Iraq and explained that the Seabees construct the buildings used by the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy Seals (the Navy’s special forces) and other facilities used by military personnel and civilians in war zones. Shortly thereafter, Boone read an essay on the U.S. flag’s history, which was written in the first person. The approximately five-minute reading included the statement, “I offer freedom to the oppressed– I am the nation.”
Throughout the assembly and alternating with the speakers, various grades took turns singing patriotic songs and reciting patriotic poems.
Toward the end of the gathering, McDonald eulogized Navy Commander Duane G. Wolf, a Seabee and close friend of his who was killed in combat in Iraq. The assembly ended with a recording of a bugler playing “Taps” and a presentation of a folded American flag to the school’s principal, Suzette Kent.
Later, Kent explained why she feels it is important to teach children to honor and respect veterans. “Military people risk their lives for us to serve our country both at home and abroad,” she said. “It’s very important for children to realize what an important role they play in keeping America free and safe.”