DERRY — Hands covered hearts, tears were shed and a sea of students saluted from the bleachers.
Patriotic lessons were in full force Monday at West Running Brook Middle School’s fifth annual Veterans Breakfast and Salute.
The morning gave area veterans and their families a chance to come to the school to be recognized for their efforts serving the country.
Dozens of veterans representing all branches of the military and many different wars — from Pearl Harbor up through Iraq and Afghanistan — gathered with family members in the school gym for a morning meal, followed by a long list of salutes, praises and awards to honor those who served.
Gov. John Lynch was a special guest. He said he was thrilled to see what West Running Brook puts in place to honor veterans.
“The students and staff who organize this should be very, very proud,” Lynch said. “Each year I come back and I continue to marvel at how well your school (shows what it means) to show appreciation to vets.”
Also honored were about two dozen veterans who now work in the Derry School District.
Superintendent Laura Nelson, in her first year in Derry, was impressed with the West Running Brook event and thanked those veterans now working in the town’s schools.
“This is the most wonderful tribute to vets I’ve ever attended,” she said. “They continue to serve the children who are our future.”
Howard Graser works at South Range Elementary School and attended the event with his family. He served six years in the U.S. Army and spent time in Vietnam.
“This is overwhelming,” Graser said. “They do a fantastic job.”
Graser joined district coworkers in receiving special plaques with their names and “thank you” engraved on them.
Student Patrick Linehan wrote a special poem, “Veterans,” for the event. His words encouraged his young peers to listen to those who are older with so much experience, especially those who served in the military.
“And thank you, veterans, for being the best teachers they can be,” Linehan said.
Marilyn Hilliard came to the event with her husband Don, an Air Force veteran. She said the morning was emotional for both of them.
“This is making me cry,” Hilliard said.
More tears came as music from each branch of service filled the gym and veterans were asked to stand when they heard their anthem.
School officials said the annual celebration is a way for the school to give back to those who gave so much.
“When you leave here, all of you remember that you were a part of a heroic time,” West Running Brook principal Leslie Saucier said.
Each veteran left with a fleece blanket as a special gift from the school.