ASHAWAY — The fourth annual Veterans Day breakfast and celebration at Ashaway Elementary School on Monday enticed Army veteran Joseph Shank to drive more than 100 miles from Mamaroneck, N.Y., to join his three grandsons, Cody, Liam and Luke.
Shank, who served in Vietnam, said the tribute from the community was a welcome change from the treatment he received in 1971 when he came home on leave.
“I used to live in New York City, and when I came home, I came home in uniform. I was proud,” he said. “They treated me like garbage … I never came home in uniform after that. You had to leave base in uniform and I’d always have an overnight bag and I would always change.”
Shank said he believed veterans are now getting the respect they deserve.
“I finally see they’re getting some respect,” he said.
Ashaway Principal Jeffrey Scanapieco said the celebration was growing, with more veterans attending every year.
“I think the word gets out that it’s a great thing to do for the veterans in our community,” he said. “The kids get to see that we have a lot of veterans living in our community. A lot of them are parents of our students and it really highlights the importance of recognizing what they do for our country.”
In addition to breakfast, the veterans were honored with patriotic songs performed by children in every grade.
The guest speaker, Rhode Island Director of Veterans Affairs Kasim Yarn, said he liked the way the celebration included diverse members of the community.
“This is my third year getting invited, and I’m kind of excited to see how this has grown,” he said. “Each year, this has gotten bigger and bigger, and seeing all the families here is special, especially when you see those that are in uniform. You get our veterans that are already out of service and you have those that are still serving. I think it brings our community together.”
Martha Brucker, who has three children at Ashaway Elementary and also has several relatives who served in the military, was one of the volunteers preparing the breakfast.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “My dad enjoys coming to see it, and he really thinks it's a great thing. He was in the Navy. My mom was in the National Guard, my brother was in the Army, he retired, and my sister-in-law was also in the Army.”
Also volunteering was Amber Ziegenfuss, whose husband, Steven, served in the Army. Ziegenfuss’ two sons, Camdyn and Ethan, attend Ashaway School.
“He did five-and-a-half years and three tours,” she said. “We love coming to this to show our support for him.”
Standing in line for breakfast, Steven Ziegenfuss said he made a point of attending the event every year.
“There’s more and more veterans showing up,” he said. “A lot of the kids have relatives that have served over the course of the last 60 years, and it’s nice that we can all come together.”
At the end of the performances, students in Heather Gray’s second-grade class announced that they had collected 1,190 pairs of socks and toiletries for veterans at the Rhode Island Veterans Home and the WARM Shelter.
“The amazing Ashaway community has pitched in, as they do every year,” Gray said.