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Massapequa Observer - Schools

Students Pay Tribute To Veterans

Massapequa School District honored veterans and active-duty soldiers with special assemblies and events that brought the meaning of Veterans Day to life.

Tributes studded with America’s heroes, elected officials and school administrators reflected on the sacrifices made by those who served and provided the opportunity to thank them personally.

“When you stop to pay tribute we tend to see veterans as square-jawed, tall, husky, Norman Rockwell people,” said guest speaker Richard Begandy, commander of VFW 7763. “But if you want to see what they look like, look around you. They are your neighbors, they are our folks. We deeply appreciate what they do to maintain America’s freedom.”

Students from Alfred G. Berner Middle School, as well as McKenna and Lockhart elementary schools, paid tribute in ways that included orating historic facts about Veterans Day, performing patriotic songs and conducting military roll calls of honor for deceased and living veterans. Each school also spotlighted a veteran among its staff: U.S. Air Force veteran James Fontana, who is part of the technology staff at Berner, National Guard veteran Larry Laifer, a retired teacher from Lockhart and U.S. Navy and Air Force veteran Brian Wellbrock, a security guard from McKenna.

Middle school students also gained first-hand knowledge when local veterans met with them in small groups during “Take a Veteran to School Day.” Armed with books, photos, medals and other memorabilia, veterans shared some amusing stories and some difficult ones. They covered basic training and boot camp, where they were stationed, the skills they learned and what it was like being overseas.

Vietnam veteran Don Hardina, an army medic from 1966-68, said it was “hot, wet and tough. It was the ultimate camping trip.”

U.S. Air Force veteran Chris Zeller, who served from 1980-86, never saw combat but praised the training he received in the military. Stationed in Bellevue, Nebraska, he learned computers, something he didn’t know anything about when he enlisted, and today he is a director of IT for a Long Island company.

Spotlighting military service as a family tradition, U.S. Army veteran Jack Solomons came with a formal portrait of his grandson, Zachary, a Massapequa graduate and U.S. Marine currently stationed in Afghanistan. With a fist full of handouts bearing his grandson’s address, he asked students if they could write to him because “servicemen love getting letters.”

“Take a Veteran to School Day” is a nationwide program developed by The History Channel which includes a documentary about Veterans Day as well as free resources for teachers that are available on It was introduced to the middle school four years ago by teacher Noreen Miller, whose father is a veteran and has taken part in the event. Students research and write about Veterans Day in their classrooms before entering the program and complete follow-up assignments, including writing letters to those in active duty. But the intimate setting of this event adds a dimension of knowledge not necessarily found in history books.

“I really enjoyed listening to the veterans’ experiences in war,” said 8th-grader Charlie Gugel. “I learned a lot from listening to them, such as all their jobs and how they categorize people. I am very thankful for the men and women who served our country and who serve it now.”

“Because my father served in the Marine Corps, I know how important it is to recognize veterans,” added 8th-grader Mary Orlik. “That’s why every Veterans Day we should acknowledge those who served in our military.”