“We are the dead,” run the chilling words of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field.”
The poem, written in the aftermath of World War I, was read aloud by Cheshire High School student Neve Stanziale as part of the school’s events commemorating Veterans Day on Nov. 11. The yearly breakfast and ceremony, which had been on hold since 2019, brought together those who served in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines, along with their families.
The events were organized with the guidance of Tim Galvin, a social studies teacher at CHS, who advises the school’s BRAVE (Bringing Remembrance to All Veterans Everywhere) club. As Stanziale, who participates in the club, explained, “It’s very important to remember all those who sacrificed their lives and a way to honor those who served and serve in the Armed Forces.”
Veterans were welcomed into Cheshire High School by a line of uniformed football players and members of BRAVE, all of whom were waving American flags. A hearty breakfast buffet prepared by school food service staff gave those in attendance an opportunity to mingle and reunite with fellow service members.
Many who came to breakfast had served during the Vietnam era and after, as so many of the “Greatest Generation” that fought in World War II and Korea have now passed on. Attendees shared stories of their service, including the rude greetings some experienced upon returning from abroad in the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s.
“The airlines had a place to change clothes if you wanted, to get out of your uniform and into civilian clothes,” explained Coast Guard veteran John Bate, who wore his dress uniform to the event. Vietnam veteran Frank Wild recalled being spat at in New Haven as he waited for the Waterbury bus — his last stop between Southeast Asia and home. Still, he said, “I was one of the lucky ones because I did make it home.”
Although military service does involve sacrifice, it can provide unparalleled experiences. Bob O’Donnell, who served four years in the Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain, had the opportunity to be present for some key moments in history. “We got to be the rescue ship for Alan Shepard,” the pioneering astronaut who splashed into the Atlantic following the Mercury-Redstone 3 flight. O’Donnell was forced to skip out on a wedding — not his own — and report for duty in the Caribbean when President John F. Kennedy announced the Cuba blockade in August 1962. He visited Jamaica as well, as that country transitioned to independence the same month.
Dick Naramore, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam era, was mainly stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, but traveled to Oslo, Lisbon, Rotterdam and other European cities during his service. “One of the things about the military is, you get to see that there are people who are better than you, and some who are worse, and you find out about yourself,” he pointed out.
Service comes in other forms too, according to Burt Finkel, who served in the Air Force during the conflict in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm, but spent most of his 46-year professional career as a dentist at the VA Hospital in West Haven, providing essential health care to fellow vets.
To express their appreciation and gratitude, the students involved in BRAVE presented folders to the veterans that contained hand-written notes, and many of the recipients appeared moved by the recognition.
Following the breakfast, a general assembly took place in Thorp Auditorium.
Cheshire Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan and student Andrew Elliot each gave a brief history of Veterans Day, pointing out that it was once known as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of “the war to end all wars,” World War I.
CHS Principal Dr. Mary Gadd noted in her remarks, as did some attendees, that the holiday used to mean an extra day off from school. In Cheshire, however, it became a day of service, learning, and bearing witness in person to the sacrifices community elders made “for the freedoms we enjoy,” as Gadd put it.
The BRAVE club recorded a video message in which members spoke about their desire to recognize the sacrifices of veterans. Later in the program, the emblems of each branch of service were displayed on a screen, as those who had served in them stood to applause from the audience.
The CHS Honors Choir performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and later the hymn “Mansions of the Lord,” under the direction of Greg Bell. These poignant songs were juxtaposed against a moment of silence later in the program for all those who lost their lives in service, including Bristol police officers Dustin Demonte and Alex Hamzy, slain last month in the call of duty.
A small white table stood on stage throughout the ceremony and Anjali Nanvati and Paulina Rodhani spoke about the symbolism of various objects arranged on it. A glass, a tilted chair, a lemon and other items acknowledge those missing in action or killed in combat and how it affects the people left at home.
A red ribbon, they said, is a symbol of determination to keep looking for the missing.