SUNDERLAND, Mass. (WWLP) – The Franklin County town of Sunderland observed Veterans Day a day early to educate students about its true meaning. Students have the actual holiday off from school.
“He overheard two sixth grade boys speaking about Veterans Day, and one of the kids said, ‘what is this Veteran’s Day holiday coming up?’ and the other one said ‘I don’t know, I think it’s the first shopping day for Christmas,’” said retired Lieutenant Colonel Danny Van Dalsen, recalling what the late Sunderland Elementary School Principal Tim Merritt told him eight years ago. Van Dalsen was asked to help the school educate students on the true meaning of Veterans Day. Since then, for the past eight years, the town has held a special ceremony for children, a day before Veterans Day, at the Sunderland Veteran’s Memorial Wall and Park.
Students from first grade through sixth grade walked about a mile from the school to the memorial. They sang patriotic songs like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” read a poem, and stood in silence as they watched a flag folding demonstration by the US Army ROTC Color Guard from UMass Amherst.
“It’s just a wonderful day to honor the people who serve our country and keep us safe and we’re very lucky that we have such strong people that can protect us,” said Aniela Carey, a sixth-grader at Sunderland Elementary School. She’s been attending this ceremony since second grade. She said over the years, there have been more speeches. The flag folding and the playing of Taps are her favorite parts.
Sunderland Elementary School students are very involved with the military. Throughout the year, they send care packages and letters to members of the military overseas, and they also visit the Holyoke Soldiers Home to meet with veterans.
After the ceremony, units from Westover Air Reserve Base, US Army, Air Force and Navy personnel from the Springfield Military Entrance Processing Station, went back to school with the students. “It’s really an outstanding experience to go and talk to them and to explain to them that this is not only a day of celebration but also a day of remembrance and to really get to know the kids,” said Specialist Zachary Rec of Westover Air Reserve Base.
The hope is that now, Veterans Day isn’t just a day off from school for these students. It’s a time to reflect on the sacrifices made to protect their freedom.