By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — There are heroes among us.
And, on Thursday, they took a seat — and the podium — at St. Christopher School in Tonawanda, invited to help the students celebrate Veteran’s Day with a special assembly dedicated to honoring the sacrifices and service of U.S. veterans and service members.
Teacher Jessica Graham, who organized the event, said it all ties into the the school’s character program.
“What better way to blend it all together than to bring in our own resource — our family members?” she said. “We have veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam ... and whole slew of Persian Gulf/Desert Storm. Almost every decade is represented, and some from the current one.”
Students, staff and family members gathered in a gymnasium decorated with red, white and blue balloons and signs saying “Thank you” and “We Salute You.”
Twenty-five of the honorees attended the program, including Gerald Gajewski, grandfather of a St. Christopher student. Gajewski, who served in the U.S. military for nine years, including the Marine Corps and the Air Force, told the students he had “many stories, some sad, some happy, some funny and some just interesting.”
“Brave men and women gave their lives (so) that we could gather here today,” he said, encouraging students and visitors to thank veterans whenever they encounter them.
Many families sent in names, service details and photos for a video presentation shown on a big screen, featuring almost 70 names (with students’ great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles and even a few siblings mentioned) and service sites from from Normandy and Okinawa to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Among the photos was a wedding photo of Dawn Flynn, the mother of first-grader Hannah Flynn and an Army Nurse Corps officer currently stationed in Niagara Falls. She told the students about learning about sacrifice the first time while watching her parents co-signing her enlistment papers.
“I still remember the look in both my parents’ eyes when they put the pen to contract,” she said. “I was only 17.”
The sacrifices, on the part of Flynn, continued. She spoke of spending sleepless nights with Scud missiles overhead, being so tired that she fell asleep with all her Army gear on and giving birth to Hannah while the family was on the road.
“I have been separated from my loved ones more times than I can count,” she said. “And I would be willing to make that sacrifice again to ensure (everyone) can continue to live in freedom.”
Joseph Tomasulo, grandfather of a St. Christopher student, served starting in 1943 and told the students about learning Morse Code. He asked them that, should they ever find themselves in a position of power, to remember the horrors of war.
“War is not a nice thing,” he said. “War is not a nice thing at all. We get hurt in a war.”
Not every story, however, was serious.
Edward Sutherland, father of two St. Christopher School faculty members, told the students about being drafted into the Army in 1945, days after his high school graduation.
“The Germans evidently heard I was being drafted ... so they surrendered,” he said, straight-faced, as the crowd applauded.
The students also had their part in the assembly, giving readings, musical presentations and listening soberly to the stories that were told.
“I thought it was so touching,” eighth-grade pupil Taylor Huebbers said. “I almost cried. It made me proud.”