ASHAWAY — Students at Ashaway Elementary School invited the veterans and active service members in their families to be the guests of honor at the school’s first Veterans Day Celebration on Monday. The 26 veterans were treated to a breakfast, followed by several presentations by the children, thanking them for their service.
Ashaway Principal Jeffrey Scanapieco said he had wanted have a communitywide event.
“This year, I said, ‘Why don’t we reach out to the community, reach out to our students and invite veterans’ families into our school so that we can honor them,’” he said.
Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn, a Navy veteran whose niece and nephew attend the school, said he enjoyed seeing children and veterans together.
“Sometimes we tend to think we have a big generation gap between our elderly population and the younger generation,” he said. “I think it’s important to take a pause to honor the sacrifices that the men and women of this great nation, in the armed forces, have done, and to include their families.”
At 98, Joseph Cayer was the oldest veteran at the celebration. A Bradford resident, Cayer served in the Army in World War II.
“I joined the National Guard in 1937, the old Battery in Westerly,” he said. “We were inducted in September 1940.”
In 1940, Cayer was sent first to New Hebrides and then Guadalcanal.
Asked how he liked sharing the event with the children, Cayer’s response was to the point. “I can’t find anybody my age,” he said. “Been around a long time.”
Robert Denesha, a Navy veteran living in Norwich, was sitting with his three granddaughters, triplets Madison, Morgan and Mackenzie.
“This is tremendous,” he said.
Denesha’s military experience included stints in the Mojave Desert and Bath, Maine, where he was part of the team that built the USS William H. Standley, a destroyer.
Stephen Sanfilippo of Middletown, whose great-grandson Stephen and great-granddaughter Isabella attend the school, served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1954. He was stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War.
“This is really great,” he said. “It’s overwhelming.
The program included several musical and spoken tributes to the veterans, as well as a video starring the children. The presentation ended with the distribution of socks and toiletries collected by students for veterans during an annual campaign called “Socktober.” Heather Gray, the teacher who organized the collection, announced that 742 items, including socks, had been collected this year.
Yarn ended the assembly by getting down on the floor for a brief heart-to-heart with the children.
“You are the future of America,” he told them. “You’ve got to go to school. Nothing can stop you if you go to school.”