Mount Pleasant Elementary salutes veterans

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Debbie Adams

Mount Pleasant Elementary School held their annual Veterans Day Salute to veterans on November 11, led–as is their tradition–by the fourth grade.

The students marched into the gymnasium, waving American flags, then took their positions onstage for a performance which included patriotic music, quotations from various Presidents of the United States about liberty and freedom, and lessons on the history of Veterans Day and our American symbols.

Fourth graders at Mount Pleasant Elementary School presented their traditional Veterans Day Program saluting members of the Armed Forces past and present. Retired Mount Pleasant teacher, Marine Corps Captain Gayle Sparrow, taught the students the Military Salute as part of the program this year.

The audience learned that Veterans Day had its beginnings after World War I—the “war to end all wars.” President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as the first Armistice Day (later renamed Veterans Day) in memory of those who perished in the “Great War.” An armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allies and Germany went into effect on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” on November 11, 1918.

The fourth graders performed a variety of patriotic tunes, led by music teacher Debra Lester—opening with “Where is the Peace?” followed by a handbell performance of “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and then signed the “thank you” for “What Can you Say to a Hero?” They taught some American history performing the School House Rock version of the Preamble to the United States Constitution.

The students welcomed retired Mount Pleasant teacher Gayle Sparrow, a United States Marine Corps Captain, who served on active duty from 1976 to 1981, followed by six years in the Reserves. She taught at the Academy Street School in Salem before joining the Marine Corps. She continued her teaching career at Mount Pleasant Elementary upon her return, teaching kindergarten, first, second, and fourth grades over about 20 years.

Sparrow explained to students the importance and techniques of the Military Salute with a demonstration by the fourth graders. A military salute is a formal greeting between two members of the Armed Forces. The one with the lesser rank initiates the salute. Salutes are appropriate when the American flag is being raised or lowered, when the flag is passing by, when the Pledge of Allegiance is being given, or when the National Anthem is played. There are required techniques for how to hold the hand, fingers, and arm during the Military Salute as well.

The program included the story of the composing of the melody “Taps” which is played at military funerals and memorials, at military wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and as a lights-out signal to soldiers at night. The 24-note tune is typically played by a single bugle or trumpet. “Taps” dates back to Civil War times.

The program included a poignant video with the lyrics of “Taps”—”Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hills, from the sky; All is well, safely rest, God is nigh,” with scenes from Arlington Cemetery. The video was followed by images of veterans submitted by the students and staff of the “Mount Pleasant family of veterans.”

Veterans of each individual branch of the Armed Services were invited to stand and be recognized and thanked for their service as the hymn of their branch was performed. They were honored with the axiom, “Bravery doesn’t mean you aren’t scared; it means you go anyway.”

Principal Dana Stevens thanked the fourth-grade students and staff who produced the Veterans Day program and the PTA for providing refreshments for the veterans invited.

She told a story which will long be remembered by those attending, of Martha Cothren, a high school teacher, who, when the school year opened in 2005 in Little Rock, Arkansas, removed all the desks from her classroom for the first day of school.

Students in each class period were told they would sit on the floor until they were able to tell her how they had earned the right to sit at a desk in school. There were many guesses throughout the day, involving grades and behavior, but no one was able to come up with the correct response.

At the end of the day, the classroom door opened, and 27 uniformed veterans walked in carrying school desks which they placed in rows around the room. “How did you earn the right to sit in the desk,” asked Cothren. “These heroes did it for you. They interrupted their lives. They paid the price.” Desks are not an expectation; they are a privilege was her message.

“It’s up to you to sit here responsibly, to learn, to be good students and good citizens, because they paid a price for you to have that desk, and don’t ever forget it,” were Cothren’s words.

She was the daughter of a World War II Prisoner of War.

The Mount Pleasant program ended with the reminder that “we live in a land that is free because of the brave,” with the fourth graders marching out to Lee Greenwood’s, “God Bless the USA.”

Stevens says the Veterans Day observance at Mount Pleasant each year has more than one purpose. They want to honor veterans, but they also want students to learn why those veterans deserve honor and what it means to be an American citizen.