Take a Vet to School 2019

For the fifth straight year, local veterans were honored publicly by the Columbus Elementary School community.  The annual Take a Vet to School Day, a History Channel initiative, was celebrated three days before Veterans Day. The students and staff were excited to welcome more than 70 veterans from the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars and to show them appreciation for their service.  It was also a great opportunity for young students to learn about the significance of the day. The school-wide event was organized by 5th grade teacher Christine Galbo, whose father served in Vietnam. Mrs. Galbo, along with numerous teachers and staff members, planned months in advance for the morning of festivities.

The day kicked off with a PTA-sponsored breakfast.  The cafeteria was bedecked in red, white and blue while student representatives (many of whom had grandparents, parents, and friends as their visiting vet) welcomed the guests with coffee, bagels and muffins.  The atmosphere was lively as uniformed men and women intermingled with teachers and school children taking pictures and sharing momentos.

From there, the vets were escorted to individual classrooms to share their stories and experiences with the kids. Many shared photographs, maps, and showed off the clothing and uniforms they wore while they were overseas.  Children had prepared questions for the visitors and came up with many more as they learned about what it was like to be in the military, whether during war or peace. One fifth grade student asked a vet what the food was like when he was stationed in Vietnam.  He replied “Well, it wasn’t my mom’s cooking, but it was fine.” 

Finally, the whole school gathered in the gym for a 45 minute assembly to formally honor the visitors.   Physical Education teacher Sean Mayer served as Master of Ceremonies.  The veterans marched in and took seats of honor at the front of the room.  The Boy Scout Honor Guard presented the colors, after which everyone recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the Star Spangled Banner.   

The ceremony continued with members of the school’s chorus and band performing a medley of the armed services theme songs as veterans from each branch of the service stood when they heard their song.  Local Girl Scout Troop 1180 presented food they had collected outside the Acme grocery store to donate to the Montrose Veterans Food Bank. Volunteer Coordinator Duke Sarles gladly accepted the donations explaining the extent of the need to help so many families of veterans after they return from service.  

After a slideshow, a roll call of veterans and the unfurling of a special flag, the ceremony concluded with a special surprise for one Vietnam veteran.  A New York State program called Operation Recognition allows a school district to grant a high school diploma to veterans who have an honorable discharge certificate and who left school before they reached graduation.  Anthony Zaino, a former resident of Thornwood, was drafted into the US Army in 1961 and served his country as a Military Police Officer before receiving his honorable discharge.  Superintendent Dr. Kurtis Kotes was delighted to present him with an honorary Westlake Hight School diploma. Mr. Zaino was thrilled to have this opportunity, made all the more special because his grandson Alex, a student at Columbus, was in the audience watching on. 

It was an emotional and heart-warming day and one that will not soon be forgotten by all in attendance.

(Photos by Westlake High School students Juliette Galletti, '20, Matthew Mynes, '20 and Alyssa Bange, '21)