WESTFIELD, NJ – Two veterans and leaders within Westfield schools spoke to Edison Intermediate School pupils about their experiences in the military and encouraged students to make a difference in the lives of America's vets at the school’s Veteran’s Day assembly on Tuesday.
Patrick Tuohy, the varsity boys lacrosse coach at Westfield High School, who served two tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine, and Dr. Derrick Nelson, a U.S. Army veteran and assistant principal at WHS, both urged students to reach out to veterans as well as active service members and to recognize their sacrifices.
Tuohy suggested that students initiate conversation with older veterans, recognizable by their oft-worn military caps, and respectfully ask them about their lives.
“I’m sure you’d be amazed with the stories they’ve got,” he said, noting that young people can also volunteer or donate to charities such as the Wounded Warrior project, which benefits injured service members.
For many veterans, “the greatest casualty is being forgotten,” he said.
Students can also make a difference in their own communities each day.
“Make sure that you’re being a good citizen, a good person. Be kind to each other,” Tuohy added.
Veteran’s Day was originally called Armistice Day and commemorated the cessation of fighting in World War I at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Congress voted to rename the holiday Veteran’s Day in 1954, Edison teacher John Stasi explained in his opening remarks.
In his speech, Nelson described how care packages of candy and cards from church and school groups at home brightened his time in Qatar a year ago. He fondly recalled getting a large donation of Halloween candy and a shipment of gourmet coffee purchased with funds raised by WHS students.
Nelson also served in Kuwait.
The celebration of Veteran’s Day was marked by performances by the EIS concert band and eighth grade chorus, under the direction of vocal music teachers Kristine Smith-Morasso and Ken Horn, organizers the day’s event.
Student Sophia Vera also read “The Pledge of Allegiance” by John McCain, an essay that describes how important it was for him and those imprisoned with him in Vietnam to recite the pledge together each day.
Attendees also watched a video presentation titled “Remembering Our Veterans” that showcased photos of friends and relatives of EIS staff who are veterans or current service members. Included in the video were relatives of Smith-Morasso, Horn and Principal Matthew Bolton.
Underscoring the veterans’ presentations Tuesday was a sense of pride and honor.
A WHS graduate, Tuohy recalled how, as a student at Roanoke College, he felt “a calling” to serve others and his country. After 13 grueling weeks of Marine boot camp plus further training, he prepared to deploy to Iraq and was often asked how he felt about going to war.
“The answer was always the same,” he said. “I am proud to have the opportunity to serve my country.”