By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — There were fists clutched tightly over hearts, students waving flags and many tears shed.
It was a lesson in Patriotism 101 at West Running Brook Middle School Monday when the school hosted its sixth annual Veterans Breakfast and Salute.
The West Running Brook chorus sang patriotic songs and the band played while approximately 150 veterans and their families enjoyed breakfast.
Other activities included a musical medley of various military service organizations and their respective anthems.
There were a few scattered World War II vets, standing tall when their anthem played. Others represented the ranks of the Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the war in Afghanistan.
Allison Beauchesne, 11, sat alongside her great-grandfather Emil Hogya. Her twin sister, Aubrey sat nearby.
“This really means a lot to me,” Allison said.
Hogya, confined mostly to a wheelchair, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II aboard the ship USS Knapp.
His daughter, Audrey Todd, helped the 89-year-old veteran to his feet at various times during the morning when it was his turn to be honored.
It was their first time attending the celebration.
Todd said her father had been ill, but was enjoying the morning. She brought along a framed portrait of Hogya in his Navy uniform.
Tony Bruno, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, was also new to the celebration.
“I’m here to show my appreciation to the other veterans,” Bruno said. “Veterans Day is for all veterans. And it’s a whole different world now than it was 45 years ago in Vietnam.”
Seventh-grader Reese Fletcher used Skype to talk to her father, who is serving in Afghanistan.
Students spend a lot of time making special gifts for the veterans, learning patriotic songs and practicing how to fold a flag.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran and West Running Brook staff member Jackie Harris told students she was very impressed with their level of patriotism and appreciation for the veterans.
“This is absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “There are 150 veterans sitting in this room today.”
Seventh-grader Reagan Kolinski said it was important for her school to recognize the veterans and their service.
“It’s important to show them that we are thankful,” she said, “and to repay them for all they are doing for us.”