Holy Family students in Hannibal take joy in honoring veterans


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Holy Family School alumna Air Force Airman 1st Class Breanna Gonzalez was back in Hannibal in full uniform to help her siblings, their classmates and the rest of the school celebrate Veterans Day.

She wound up helping students work out a glitch in the audiovisual equipment before the program began.

“It’s what she did in middle school, and that’s what she does now — specializing in computers,” said Holy Family middle school math and science teacher Melissa Flaspohler, coordinator of Holy Family School’s annual tribute to military veterans and their families.

“We’re a team and a family here at Holy Family,” she said.

The school’s sixth- through eighth-graders spent weeks learning, preparing and practicing for the event, which involved songs, prayers, dramatizations and audiovisual presentations.

The whole school joined in honoring their distinguished guests the morning of Nov. 10, the morning before Veterans Day.

“We really respect the veterans for what they have done and what they do,” said eighth-grader Dylan. “I don’t think I respect anyone more than I respect them.”

“When the veterans came out, you could really tell how our tribute was affecting them,” said eighth-grader Maggie. “I’m glad we got to show them our appreciation.”

“I think it’s important for us to honor them because some veterans didn’t get treated right,” said eighth-grader Kohen. “We need to show them the respect they’ve always deserved.”

Kohen was referring to some who served in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s, which was unpopular and led to public protests.

Expressions of gratitude

The school got the word out for the ceremony through the parish and local veterans’ organizations.

The students welcomed and thanked the veterans as they arrived at the school gym.

They set a table in the reception area with an empty chair and place setting, to remind all of prisoners of war and those who are missing in action.

Members of the American Legion presented and retired the colors. Students held the U.S. flag and flags representing service members who were prisoners of war or who are missing in action.

They sang a song for branches of the military — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard — and held flags representing each branch.

Students in the cast represented people who served in the Revolutionary War through recent conflicts involving U.S. service people.

Students demonstrated the proper folding of the flag, explaining the symbolism behind each of the 13 folds.

“It went very well,” said Mrs. Flaspohler. “The kids got to interact with all the veterans. They were awed by the kindness of the veterans. They were happy to hear their stories.”

Expressions of faith and gratitude abounded.

“We started with the Sign of the Cross and ended with the Sign of the Cross,” said Mrs. Flaspohler. “A lot of the songs we sang were prayerful. Our faith is intertwined through the program, because we’re so grateful to God for Veterans. Were it not for them, we would not be here.”

Eighth-grader Erin sang a closing prayer to the tune of “Taps.”

“I remember looking up and seeing how it had everyone in tears,” she said. “It was astonishing to see how much it meant to them. I think it took them back to when they were in Korea or Vietnam, or whenever they were deployed away from home.”

Maggie was also taken aback by the veterans’ reactions.

“It was really neat to see their faces and how emotional some of them got when they see how they’re being recognized and know that we’re not going to forget them,” she said.

Learning opportunities

Veterans who are members of Holy Family Parish worked with the middle-schoolers ahead of time, teaching them how to serve as color guards, how to salute and how to fold the U.S. flag properly.

They also talked to the middle-schoolers about what it was like to serve in the military — some in combat zones during wartime — and explained the symbolism of their uniforms.

“It’s a good history lesson for the students,” said Mrs. Flaspohler.

Dylan helped put together a digital slideshow and play it back during the Veterans service.

“Before this, I didn’t know much about the wars Americans have fought in, when they were, the monuments, and who served,” she said. “And now after having helped to create this, I’m a lot more familiar with it.”

Several of the students and adult participants have veterans in their families.

Both of Kohen’s grandfathers were in the National Guard.

Maggie’s father served for 23 years in the Air Force.

“Today, I wore his uniform to surprise him during our program,” she said.

Erin’s cousin is a Marine deployed in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in Western Africa.

“The couple of times he’s been back, I’ve been amazed to see how he changed from being this 18-year-old boy when he got deployed, to being a man,” she said. “He stands straighter and is much more respectful. He’s doing what he loves.”

Mrs. Flaspohler’s grandfather served in the Navy Seabees in World War II, and her dad served in the Seabees in Vietnam.

Students also brought photos for a display of veterans in their families who could not attend the event, and carried the photos in procession during one of the songs.

Mrs. Flaspohler said the organizers had help from Holy Family parishioners and members of the larger community.

“The American Legion let us borrow 300 chairs, brought them here and brought them back,” she said. “Our maintenance staff has been working extra hard. We’ve had other people in the community come in. A lot of adults were helping for hours and hours to get this in.”

Not just one day

Erin said she and her classmates have been attending Veterans Day events at school each year since kindergarten — except sixth grade, due to COVID-19.

“Back when we were younger, we didn’t really understand how important it is,” she said. “But here we are now, our last Veterans Day as students here, and I’m really happy to be a part of it. It really does feel like it brings everything together.”

Maggie said the celebration was worth all the work that went into preparing for it.

“When we put up all the stuff for the program, it may take us a few days, and it may take us a few hours to take it all down, but it sticks with the veterans for I don’t know how long,” she said. “I’m glad we can provide that for them.”

Mrs. Flaspohler said Holy Family students know to thank veterans for their service, wherever they see them.

They also know to ask veterans in their families and their neighborhoods to tell their stories — and really listen.

“This has come to life, because we’ve known people,” said Mrs. Hooley. “Talking about it, asking about it, knowing it’s our history and making ourselves aware.”

Erin said all of that means a lot to her family.

“My parents are going to call my cousin tonight,” she said. “And every time before we leave, we are very adamant to thank and praise God and we pray over him, not only for his safety but for him to continue doing what he loves to do.”

Mrs. Hooley applauded the students for their hard work.

“I believe we are stewards of kindness here, and today, we lived that out in everything we did,” she said. “We expanded our school community out into the larger community, and we hope they felt that love and kindness.”

Josie said she would keep the day’s experiences in her prayers that night.

“I thank God for veterans and for letting me go to this school and be a part of this program,” she said. “We all gave our all out there, and I thank God for letting me be a part of it.”