Ellington veterans tell their stories to Center School students
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Sun., Nov. 17, 2013
Ellington's Center School honored the military on Nov. 11, with a Veterans Day assembly at the school that invited members of the military to share something about themselves and their experiences. During the second annual Take a Veteran to School Day, 15 students introduced their mothers, fathers, grandfathers and family friends to their schoolmates.
"We're here to take a moment this afternoon to show our veteran visitors how much we appreciate them, and how much they matter," said Center School Principal Trudie Luck Roberts.
Leo, a fourth-grader, explained what Veterans Day is. "Each year, Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11th," Leo said. "It is the day set aside to honor and pay tribute to all of those who are serving or have served in our American military for their service to our country," he explained.
Fourth-grader Anna quoted former Ohio Gov. Robert Taft, who said, "Many have left their families to defend our freedom. We salute their bravery. We express our appreciation in support for their families. We are grateful for their safe return."
Of the 18 servicemen and women invited to the event, 11 represented the Army, three the Marines and two each from the Navy and the Air Force.
John Symanski was introduced by his son, Ethan. Szymanski is a retired Chief Petty Officer from the U.S. Navy, but still works with the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Szymanski said he first went to boot camp at the age of 17, and had joined at the urging of his best friend. "Here I am, 26 years later, and I've been to 38 countries, and in two wars," Szymanski said, adding that Evan had wanted him to mention that he also spent a year in the desert. "You don't think about the Navy much in the desert, but there are lots of us in the desert. I also wanted to mention that I was on a submarine, for just a weekend. I'm not a big fan of submarines."
Szymanski said serving in the military has been a big part of his life. "Other than being Evan's father, it is the thing I'm most proud of in my life," he said.
Similarly, Joshua Hebert, who serves in the Air Force Reserves, thanked his son, Hunter. "It's a privilege to serve this country, and to be able to be free," he said. "I want to thank Hunter for his support, too, because if he doesn't behave himself, it doesn't allow me to do the job that I need to do to take care of my family."
Robert West was brought to the school by his grandson, Brennen, who is a new student to Center School. West said he didn't choose his service, but was part of the country's last draft, in September of 1969. He was an infantryman in Vietnam and was on the front lines a lot, where he learned to not take some things for granted.
"When you take a shower, enjoy it," he said. "When you flush a toilet, enjoy it, because it's totally different [there.]"
West became emotional talking about the Vietnam veterans and their return home to the U.S. "It was also a different life when I got out," he said. "Other Vietnam vets will tell you, we weren't accepted. Thank you for accepting us now."
Marine Sgt. Greg Caron, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and lost both of his legs in an IED explosion on Nov. 12, 2011, was the last veteran to speak. He said that while his losses are obvious, he is still proud to have served.
"We all sign up and it's not an easy job," Caron said. "It's very dangerous, and I can tell you we don't do it for the money. We do it because we want to provide you guys with all the freedom that we had, and that in the future, my children will have. After going to Iraq and Afghanistan, you realize how great we have it here in the United States. It was a great experience. I have no regrets."