PLAINVILLE - The Middle School of Plainville was visited by two members of the military Friday for Veterans Day who answered their questions and shared their experiences.
The entire school gathered in the gymnasium for a Veterans Day assembly and welcomed guests Staff Sergeant Brian Shattuck and Sergeant First Class Joseph Petroski from the National Guard out of New Britain.
Local veterans and their family members sat in chairs on the gym floor while the rest of the school filled the bleachers. Signs with each branch of service stood in honor of the guests. Later, a medley of the themes for each branch of service was played and guests were invited to stand and be applauded when the one they had served in played.
Melanie Olmstead, health teacher at the school, emceed the event. She said that she is the granddaughter of a World War II Veteran, the daughter of a veteran and that she is engaged to a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After welcoming the guests, she encouraged everyone to remember the families of the fallen, those still deployed and those who returned home permanently changed by war.
“We realize that we will never be able to repay the debt we owe you,” she said. “We are here today because of the sacrifices you have made for our freedom.”
The school band then played “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue,” after which a student color guard posted the flag. The assembled students then recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem.
Shattuck and Petroski then spoke to students.
“People come up to me all the time and thank me for my service,” said Shattuck, who noted that he had served with the army for 15 years as a combat soldier. “While this is very gracious of you, none of you owes me a thing. I volunteered. I wanted to serve and I wanted to fight. I served a couple tours in Afghanistan, I sought out and engaged the enemy. Know this; freedom is actively being provided for you by those of us serving in the Middle East and stationed around the world.”
Petroski encouraged students never to underestimate anyone or sell them short.
“I want you to walk away today with an appreciation for veterans, public servants, your parents and your educators,” he said.
Shattuck and Petroski then answered questions from students in the audience.
When a student asked if he had been injured during his service, Petroski said that he had taken shrapnel in his left shoulder.
Shattuck was then asked how he got over his fear in the army.
“For an infantry soldier, you need to learn to accept death as a consequence for serving your country,” he said. “It could happen at any time and if it is your time to go then it is your time to go. If you can accept that, the fear goes away and you evolve to the caliber of soldier that the army intends for you to become.”
After Shattuck and Petroski spoke to students, they were given a wooden flag as a gift. Middle School of Plainville Chamber singers then sang “America the Beautiful” before introducing teacher Christopher Couture, who served in the military from 1991 to 2002.
“Actions, not words, complete the mission, save lives and safeguard our country,” he said. “If you are not contributing your best, then your team will suffer. Your team works toward a common goal and no one person can take credit. Your team completes one mission and stands as one.”
Olmstead then left the students with a closing message.
“If you think about your warm bed, your heated house, your food, the roof over your head, and being with your family, know that veterans have gone many days or months without some of all of those things,” she said. “Freedom is not free. If you see someone who has served our country, I would like you to say thank you.”
Finally, Olmstead explained the “Missing Man Table”, a ceremony to recognize prisoners of war and those missing in action. The assembly then closed with a playing of taps and the retiring of the colors.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com. Follow Brian Johnson on Twitter @brianjohnsonBP.