Sixth- and seventh-graders recite the poem 'We Remember' at the school's annual Memorial Day celebration. For more photos, see the slideshow.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Col. Michael Morgan said Sullivan Elementary School third-grader Alexis Toomey explained Memorial Day correctly at the school's annual celebration on Friday morning.
"Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day," said Toomey, who emceed the event in her opening remarks. "Memorial Day is remembering and honoring those who have died serving their country."
Morgan, who is the support group commander of the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, based in South Burlington, Vt., began with a story from this morning when his friend texted him, "Happy Memorial Day to you, thank you for your service."
"I said, 'That's really kind of you, but it's not about me,'" Morgan said.
He explained the importance of honoring those who sacrificed their lives for this country and reminding families of those who fallen the "noble cause," noting that "when we exercise any of the freedoms we possess, we are reminded of that meaning, freedom."
This year's ceremony was dedicated in memory of Spc. Michael Demarsico II, the 20-year-old Drury High School graduate, as well as former Sullivan student, who died in Afghanistan last August.
"Today we say thank you to families like that of Specialist DeMarsico," Morgan said. "Specialist DeMarsico's life epitomized the core value of service before self."
Col. Michael Morgan speaks at the celebration.
Morgan retold a segment of the story of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, showing the photo of the six men setting up the American flag on the Japanese-occupied island. He explained what John Bradley, one of the six men in the photo, told his 9-year-old son James in 1964 when his teacher called him a hero.
Bradley looked at the photo, took his son's textbook and closed it gently. After, he said, "I want you to remember something. The heroes of Iwo Jima are the ones who didn't come back."
"It's not really all about picnics and parades, though there's nothing wrong enjoying and celebrating the American way of life, but as we heard here today Memorial Day is truly about remembering those who made our way of life possible."
Paul Barabani, superintendent of Soldier's Home in Holyoke, agreed with Morgan's sentiment, noting the holiday is not about picnics and parades, but rather "remembering those who made our way of life possible."
"The meaning of Memorial Day runs deeper than a backyard barbecue, on a sacred day our hearts go out to families of those who's lives have changed forever by... the death of a relative," Barabini said.
The event also featured presentations by pupils. The first- to fifth-grade students sang a song with Staci Downey, the school's music teacher. The sixth- and seventh-graders read the poem, "We Remember," which was written by Wendy Sullivan's after-school poetry class.
An excerpt from the poem reads:
We remember the red
The crimson blood that was spilt upon the earth for us
We remember the white
The stars that gaze upon us
Col. Morgan sits beside Spc. Michael Demarsico II's parents at the event.
We remember the blue
The heavens and seas that reach to soothe our aching hearts
And we remember
Where would we be without your courageous souls?
The miraculous country we live in would be a shadow of itself
You've protected us from sea to sea
And we remember
And we thank you
Drury High eighth-grade William Galipeau read the Gettysburg Address and sixth-graders Anthony Mitchell and Bemjamin LaForest performed taps after about 50 seconds of silence.
Anna Saldo-Burke's third-grade class spearheads the event every year. She said she started this event many years ago when she noticed many of her pupils not celebrating the holiday and being absent from the parades, so she took it upon herself to make sure the entire school learned about and celebrated the holiday, assuring that this generation doesn't forget.
"Sometimes on Memorial Day we hear the words let us never forget," Mayor Richard Alcombright said. "What I'd like to say let us always remember."