WESTERLY — The entire Dunn's Corners Elementary School community joined Wednesday morning in honoring and showing respect for veterans.
Students carrying U.S. flags led a procession of students, and about 25 veterans — most of whom were parents, grandparents or other relatives of the students — from the school library to the gymnasium for an assembly. Enlarged copies of newspaper front pages documenting some of the nation's significant military moments were on display on the library tables.
The assembly started with individual students introducing themselves and the veteran they were paired with. The audience joined in unison to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and then the fourth grade chorus sang "America the Beautiful" under the direction of music teacher Steve Johnson Jr. The chorus also closed the event with a rendition of "You're a Grand Old Flag."
The special guest was 99-year-old John "Shorty" Terranova, a World War II veteran and lifelong Westerly resident, who was among the first wave to survive the Normandy invasion on Omaha Beach. Terranova was introduced by his great-great nephew Carl Johnson Jr., a student at the school. Marie Terranova, John's daughter, read a short history of her father's "hometown hero" life.
Principal Steve Morrone announced that the school had prepared a certificate of appreciation for Terranova and would sponsor one of the U.S. flags that fly in the downtown area in his honor.The audience then sang "Happy Birthday" to John, whose birthday is coming up in December.
Eight students took turns reading a history of how red poppies came to be used as a symbol, after World War I, in commemorating veterans who died in war. The students learned about the poppies and their significance under the guidance of Anne Marie Doyle, the school's library media specialist. She helped to organize the ceremony, which was being held at the school for a third consecutive year.
After the assembly the veterans returned to the library with their students for cake and other refreshments.
"It's good to hear a lot of those songs like a 'Grand Old Flag.' I haven't heard those songs in a long time, it seems we've gotten away from patriotism," said Clyde Callejo, an Air Force veteran who lives in Pawcatuck.
Callejo walked into the gymnasium with his 8-year-old grandson, George Oddo, a student at the school.
"They're very important to our country because they fought for our freedom," George said, explaining some of what he has learned about veterans.
Ava and Ella Nigro, 8-year-old twin sisters, were joined for the event by their father, Adam, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. "Veterans are very important because they make our country a better place," Ella Nigro said.
Eight-year-old Blake Gears was joined for the assembly by his brother, Eric Butler, a Navy veteran, and his brother-in-law, Kevin White, an Army veteran. "Veterans are important for fighting for our country. Without them we wouldn't have freedom," Blake said.
The event was started two years ago by Andi Kenyon and Shannon Saglio, parents of children who attend the school. They're both U.S. history teachers, Kenyon in South Kingstown, and Saglio in East Lyme. Kenyon's husband, Keith, is an Army veteran.
Saglio said,"Community connection and raising civil awareness is really important, so we thought having an assembly is a great way to bring community together and say thank you and also teach our students about service and saying thank you."
Kenyon and Saglio were assisted by Doyle and Kelly O'Neil, whose husband, Matt, was the speaker at the school's first veterans assembly in 2017. "They did such a phenomenal job, I wanted to be a part of it," O'Neil said.