M-W Middle School program reinforces the significance of Veterans Day through speakers and presentations,By Nancy Kriz CENTRAL VALLEY - Veterans and active duty service personnel joined more than 600 Monroe-Woodbury Middle School sixth-graders and faculty on Wednesday morning in a Veterans Day program honoring those who served in the nation’s armed forces. The “Bring a Vet to School” day is part of Cablevision’s “Power to Learn” education initiative, where the sixth grade student body focused on the importance of honoring veterans and active duty personnel though their researched presentations, music, art and writing. Cablevision officials said the selection of Monroe-Woodbury Middle School as the spotlighted school was based on the recommendation of state Sen. William J. Larkin Jr. - a veteran himself. The program included watching a portion of the History Channel’s “The Story of Veterans Day,” comments from a war veteran who is the recipient of a Purple Heart medal and a meeting with four members of the Army’s 328th Engineer Company in Iraq via Skype, the software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. To honor the sixth-graders for their efforts, Cablevision presented the National Purple Heart Wall of Honor, based in nearby Vails Gate, with a $5,000 check. Battle, survival and death The almost two-hour program was choreographed to keep the attention of the sixth graders, who were also watching the presentation of some students’ research work as well as their oral comments. The planning was successful. From cheering, standing ovations to rapt silence, students had the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor in action while listening to people talk about the hardships of battle, survival and death as well as the necessity to protect the nation’s freedoms. Larkin thanked the veterans in attendance for their service, noting each endured many challenges and hardships during their duty. “For me, the hardest thing I ever had to do during my service was on Aug. 4, 1950, when I had to write a letter to the parents of a 19-year-old, telling them their only child was killed,” he said. “I was 24, he was 19. He was the only son of an African American couple from Georgia. He couldn’t drink from a water fountain in Georgia, but he could give his life for his country. Never judge a person by their pigment.” Purple Heart recipient Warren Craig wept when he spoke of his Navy experiences during World War II, when he was injured after his ship, the USS Duncan, was sunk in October 1942. He recounted how he watched friends die in front of him. “I spent 14 hours in the water waiting, with nothing but a life vest,” he said as tears streamed from his face as he described his ordeal. “I tried to kill myself three times, but I just couldn’t do it. Finally, the Marines came. They first thought I was the enemy, with guns pointed to my face, but when they realized I wasn’t, they quickly helped me.” He was sent back to duty on the USS Shubrick, only to have that ship hit and badly damaged. “How did I survive all this?” Craig said. “How did I come home? I didn’t understand. It took me years to find distractions. Selling cars helped.” Students and veterans Proud students were happy to have the veterans in their lives be part of the event. Monroe resident Troy Padgett invited his father Chris to attend the program. “It was a good thing that he served in the Army,” said Troy. “He kept us free and he kept us safe. Kids might think this (Veterans Day) is a good day to go to the mall. But it’s a day for us to thank the vets for all their hard work serving in the military.” Chris Padgett, who served in the Army from 1991 to 1997, added: “It’s also important to thank those who are serving us now. They are people who are doing this for the right reasons. For freedom.” Monroe resident Joe Melo also invited his father Mike, who served as a sergeant in the Air Force from 1984 to 1987. “It feels so cool that my dad served in the Air Force,” said Joe. “He helped us. This is not just a day to get off of school. It honors the people who help get our freedom for us.” Mike Melo spoke of the people who lost their lives protecting this country. “As a vet, I’m reminded of the people who lost a limb or lost their lives, many of them voluntarily,” he said. “They served their country to protect what we enjoy today. We appreciate them.” Some students invited active duty personnel, like Chester resident Tyler Rinaldi who brought his drill sergeant father Steve with him. “I like that my dad is in the Army and I always wanted to bring him to school,” said Tyler. “This is a day to honor all the veterans in all the wars.” Steve Rinaldi is a member of the Army Reserves, stationed out of Lodi, N.J. “I feel very honored to be here,” said Rinaldi. “It’s a great thing for our community to recognize our local veterans. It’s a great thing for the children to know that our way of life, freedom isn’t free.” Something lost through the years’ Some students like Julianne Olsen, invited grandparents. Her guest was “adopted” grandfather John Porvaznik of Warwick, who served for over 23 years in the Air Force, retiring as a senior master sergeant. “People should remember the veterans so they know who gave us our freedom,” said Julianne. Porvaznik was impressed with the day’s events. “This is excellent, it’s educational,” said Porvaznik. “A lot of kids don’t know about Veterans Day. It’s something lost through the years. A lot of people treat it like a shopping holiday.” Porvaznik also wanted to spotlight one other group many may not think of: Spouses. “The wives, they’re serving too,” he added. “”We’re separated from our families, but they get stuck waiting.” Students cheered when a Skype connection was made to four members of the 328th Engineering Company in Iraq, where pre-selected questions were asked of the two men and two women. After answering about how long it’s been since they’ve seen their families, what they do there and the weather (yes, it’s hot), 1st Sgt. Michael Ford made this request: “When you see a service man or woman or a vet on the street, thank them.. They are protecting your freedom.”
For me, the hardest thing I ever had to do during my service was on Aug. 4, 1950, when I had to write a letter to the parents of a 19-year-old, telling them their only child was killed. I was 24, he was 19. He was the only son of an African American couple from Georgia. He couldn’t drink from a water fountain in Georgia, but he could give his life for his country. Never judge a person by their pigment.” State Sen. William J. Larkin Jr.