Rockland students honor the sacrifices of servicemen and women

The American flag, patriotic songs and soldiers in uniform served as reminders of the sacrifices made by U.S. military personnel throughout history at a Veterans Day ceremony at Holy Family School in Rockland, Nov. 10.

Students and teachers in the K through eight school gathered at Holy Family Church for their third annual Veterans Day assembly to honor soldiers who have fought to defend the United States.

Principal Ann Marie Manning uses the opportunity of the Veterans Day ceremony to make students aware of the efforts those in the military have made — and continue to make — to protect and defend the freedom that U.S. citizens enjoy.

"It is important to teach the children about Veterans Day ... and to thank the people who have brought us to the place where we are today," said Manning, mother of Army officer Capt. Michael Manning. "Even though our nation is involved in war, our kids are far removed from it."

The faculty and staff of Holy Family School invited a number of veterans, including Manning’s son, Michael, to attend the ceremony and speak to students about the significance of Veterans Day.

Michael Manning was commissioned as an officer in the Army in 1997 and served in Kosovo soon after. As assistant professor of military science in the ROTC program at Providence College, he currently prepares future army officers for service.

Approaching the students filling the pews of the packed church, Michael Manning told them that the composition of today’s military is different than the military in the past.

"Unlike any other time in history of the United States, this is an all volunteer force," he said. "These men and women volunteer to ensure that you and I and everyone else who lives under the flag can enjoy freedom."

But just because the forces have volunteered, that does not make it easier for them to leave family and friends and go to war, Michael Manning said emotionally.

"It's very hard to leave your family and that's what these people are doing," he continued. "Everytime you see a soldier on television, that's somebody's dad, somebody's brother, somebody's son."

Michael Manning conceded that he was reluctant to speak to the students at first, saying there are “a lot of great Americans who have done so much more in the past” than himself.

Among those he mentioned was Don Wright, 78, a Rockland resident who served during World War II. Wright fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest land battle of the war, and earned a bronze star.

Wright remembered the war as a sad time, during which he lost some “good friends” both from Brockton, where he grew up, and men he trained with in the Army.

"I wish the war never happened, but it had to happen to take care of that guy," he said, referring to German leader Adolf Hitler.

A number of students presented a brief history of Veterans Day, explaining that the holiday began as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I, Nov. 11, 1918. Years later in 1954, after witnessing the destruction of World War II and other smaller battles, Congress replaced the word “Armistice” with “Veterans,” honoring veterans of all wars.

Students and faculty presented Staff Sgt. Ken Carson, father of a sixth grader at the school and member of an Army National Guard unit that served in Afghanistan, with a certificate of appreciation for his service.

"I'm very happy," said Carson. "It's a nice feeling to be recognized by a Catholic school that is very [supportive of] people in the military."

Students and teachers provided the vocals and music for the ceremony, playing: “America the Beautiful,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.”

Michelle, a second grader at the school, sang aloud to every song and learned “a little” more about what it means to be a veteran.

"I liked the trumpet best," she said of William Moore's rendition of "Taps," the famous military bugle call.

Elizabeth O’Malley, eighth grade, played the flute during the service and enjoyed being a part of the ceremony.

"It was special," she said. "I liked it especially because of the soldiers -- you have to have a lot of respect for them."