ASHAWAY — For the second year, students at Ashaway Elementary School invited the veterans in their families to join them in the school cafeteria for a special tribute to thank them for their service. About 40 veterans sat down with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to share breakfast and listen to presentations by the students.
Principal Jeff Scanapieco said he enjoyed hosting the veterans.
“I have to say, it’s one of my favorite things that we do here,” he said as he waited in his office Thursday morning for the guests to arrive. “We have many veterans who are part of our community, and they’re a fixture of the country, they’re a fixture in the community. These are the parents of students in our building and I think it’s very important that we acknowledge and recognize their service.”
Members of the PTO sent out invitations, prepared the breakfast and decorated the cafeteria.
PTO President Martha Brucker noted that that there were more veterans attending this year. “This is the second year we’ve done this, so we’re getting into it and it’s flowing a little bit easier now,” she said.
Luke Green, the only World War II veteran in the room, drove to Ashaway from his home in Providence to be with his great-grandson, Owen Leggett. Green, who celebrated his 98th birthday on Wednesday, served in the 43rd Infantry Division of the Army, and was sitting with a Vietnam War veteran, Arthur Barlow.
“That’s who I hang with, mostly, Vietnam veterans,” Green said. “There aren’t any more like me. This is very nice. I think they should do it all the time.”
Barlow was with his grandson, Liam.
“It’s very nice to be recognized,” he said. “My grandson, he’ll learn something today about veterans.”
Robert Denesha of Norwich sat with his three granddaughters, Madison, Megan and Mackenzie. Denesha, who served in the Navy from 1964 to 1968, and later in the Navy Reserve and National Guard, said he had enjoyed the inaugural breakfast so much last year that he had made a point of coming back.
“This is awesome in so many ways,” he said. “It gives the kids a thrill, having parents, grandparents, great-grandparents coming in and seeing the school, but it also gives the kids an awareness of their lineage, their history. I hope they never have to fight a war or be in a war, but they have to know where they came from.”
Farther down the table were Richard Caswell and Joseph Schank. Caswell, who served in the Air Force from 1978 to 2000, was joined by his grandchildren, Elina and Harper MacCall.
“It’s very nice that they do this,” he said. “I’d never heard of them doing anything like that, and last year I came, and it’s a very nice program.”
Schank served in the Army from 1969 to 1971. He said this was his first veterans’ breakfast. He was with his three grandsons, Luke, Cody and Liam. “It’s nice that they honor the vets,” he said. “Very few people do, let me tell you.”
Children from each grade presented patriotic songs and stories, and then ran to the veterans in the audience to give them a hug and a small flag.
Joining the tribute was Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn.
“It's humbling to know that we live in a state where we care for our veterans at the grass-roots level and we’re doing it the right way, teaching our kids to honor our veterans,” he said.
In addition to organizing the veterans’ tribute, Ashaway students and staff members collected new socks, toiletries and underwear for the Rhode Island Veterans Association and the WARM Shelter. During the ceremony, they announced, to loud applause, that they had collected more than 1,000 pairs of socks.
“They’re proud of the accomplishments and achievements of their parents and grandparents, the school and the community we live in, and it’s nice to give people recognition for what they’ve done,” Scanapieco said.