By Dusten Rader
For My Little Falls

Thankfulness was spread generously as students and staff at Benton Hall Academy in Little Falls honored local veterans during a Nov. 8 program.

Moved by the annual event, local veterans thanked their hosts for recognizing them for their service. Each veteran in attendance was given a moment to introduce themselves, speak about their service, and what the event meant to them.

A Navy veteran who introduced himself as Tom, said on behalf of the others in attendance, “Thank you for this program.”

“Unless you encountered some of the things that we have … when you encounter something like this, a program that you children and teachers and administration put on for us, it really strikes deep in our hearts,” Tom said.
Three students, Ruthann Grant, Rocco Lamanna, and Brooke Becker spoke about what the day meant to them as well as led the room in the singing of the National Anthem.

“Thank you for serving, you make us proud. Thank you for all that you have sacrificed for our country,” Lamanna said.

BHA Principal Joe Long opened the ceremony by introducing the event’s speakers, including veteran Jim McDermott and Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford. Long commented on the event by stating it is “just about my favorite day of the year.” He urged veterans in attendance to take a letter or card off the wall as a memento to remember the day.

“Thanks for our children and our staff for simply being the best,” Long said. “Thanks for all of our guests for attending today and sharing in our tribute to these special men and women and their families.”
Vietnam veteran McDermott was introduced by his grandchildren, who said he planned to explain what his service meant to him.

McDermott explained that there are more than 18 million veterans, 9 million of which are over the age of 65.

“Veterans, when they entered service, they all took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,” McDermott said. “The Constitution contains certain freedoms, which have made the United States unique. These freedoms include Freedom of religion, press, assembly, and speech. These freedoms went under attack by foreign governments. Veterans have sacrificed greatly, many of whom were wounded or killed in wars over the years. … Thank you for inviting me. I’m very proud of my grandchildren who introduced me. Thank you and God bless the students, veterans, and the United States of America.”

Superintendent Keith Levatino pointed out that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the fighting of World War I ended in 1918. Due to the conclusion of the war to end all wars, Nov. 11 became universally recognized as a day of celebration, or Armistice Day.

“It was renamed what we know it as today, Veterans Day, to honor all of these veterans behind me who served the United States and defended our Democracy and freedom,” Levatino said. “So, today we honor these veterans who unselfishly placed their lives on the line to protect your freedom. Those men and women were ordinary people until they heard the call of duty and they answered it. They left their families, their homes, their lives. Not for recognition or fame, or for even the honor we bestow upon them today. They fought to protect our country to maintain our way of life. As we honor our veterans and remember their great deeds, let us also salute those who are currently fighting for our freedom. Veterans Day isn’t just a day for veterans, it’s a day for all of us, all Americans. It’s a day to remember why they are fighting, and a day for all of us to begin our journey of protecting our freedom and democracy for all of the future generations to come.”

Assemblyman Miller stated that without all the veterans in attendance, and those who came before them, people wouldn’t be celebrating. Although he did not serve in the military himself, some of his family members did that made him aware of the great honor.

“Never forget that this is the greatest country in the world, and if it wasn’t for all of our veterans here today we wouldn’t all have the opportunity to be here,” Miller said.

Mayor Mark Blask sent his regrets for not being able to attend this year’s event. Long stated that Blask was planning on attending, but instead was participating in a FEMA conference related to recent flooding in Little Falls and across more than a dozen counties in New York.

Chorus Director Amy Osborne, who served as coordinator for the event, said the celebration went well.

“It’s always a special day,” Osborne said. “I think it means a lot for the kids to see the veterans and know that they are somebody’s aunt or grandpa. We look forward to it every year.”

Osborne and Band Director Emily Rozonkiewiecz led students in several performances, including The cadet band’s “Fanfare Heroica” by Brian Balmages; “God Bless the USA”; and the “Armed Service Medley.”

Following the event, veterans were invited to join fifth-grade hosts in the cafeteria.

Photos by Dusten Rader