A lesson of respect for veterans
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Pleasant Valley High School students, Ricki Vence and Amber Ziegenfus sang "American Tears" at the PVHS Veterans Day ceremony.
Mark Tramontina's father and son both served in the U.S. Marines. Because of their service, he developed a love, respect and compassion for veterans. As a social studies teacher at Pleasant Valley High School, 13 years ago he began coordinating a Veterans Day event at PV.
It began in his classroom. He brought in some military artifacts he had been collecting over the years and some special guest veterans to speak to his students. The displays began to overflow into the hallway until 10 years ago, the event was moved into the big gym.
Now it is an all-day event where several displays are set up with all branches of the military represented and special guests and veterans speak to the students.
This year's event began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by student speaker Rebecca Keck followed by the national anthem by the PVHS band under the direction of James Devivo.
Audiences were treated to the musical selections of "American Tears" sung by Amber Ziegenfus and Ricki Vence and "America the Beautiful" by Tarik Williams, Olivia DiBella and Kiasia.
Some of the special guest speakers this year were: Joel Keller, Director of the Monroe County Veterans Affairs; Suzanne McCool, Monroe County Commissioner; PV teacher Brent Lewis, veteran of the U.S. Navy; WW II veteran Charles Hildabrandt; veteran and Commander of the American Legion Post 927 Lester Snyder; John Howard, veteran and Commander of the Korean War Veterans Association.
Recruiters introduced themselves and spoke on what it means to be in their specific branch of the service like: EM2 Heather Surfiss, U.S. Navy; Kevin Overcash, U.S. Air Force; Sgt. Serano and Sgt. Oquendo of the U.S. Army and Reserves; SSgt. Shuman of the US Marine Corps; and NROTC instructor and veteran James Nuyen of the U.S. Navy.
Four of the Army personnel that were present were PV graduates.
Tramontina's 20th Century History students, some sophomores, seniors and math classes do all the posters and research for the event.
Students were allowed to visit the gym during free periods and many classroom teachers brought their classes to the gym to understand the importance of recognizing veterans and the service they gave for their country.
Tramontina received a donation for his collection of the World War II remains of a halftrack from North Africa and a pair of boots from WW II that were made by the New Jersey Rubber Co. Some of Tramontina's personal artifacts that were on display included a WW I helmet and ammo belt and his dad's duffel bag from Korea.
In the closing ceremony, student speaker Robin Relosa, a PV senior asked for a moment of silence for those currently serving and for those who had served then gave the background of the first Armistice Day that was eventually renamed Veterans Day.
Don Wild Eagle Wuebber, an Apache and security guard at PVSD, spoke about how Native Americans have been serving in the United States armed forces since the Revolutionary War.
Monica Tramontina read a letter from Vietnam, "For all the Moms that lost sons."
Rebecca Keck read the story of "Taps."
Then in a stirring ceremony, representatives of the different armed forces lowered an American flag that was used at WW II veteran Ellis Haines' funeral, (Tramontina's former father-in-law) and folded it while Olivia DiBella, a PV senior, played "Taps" on a bugle. The flag detail was led by MSgt. (ret. Air Force) Anthony Palermo and security guard of PVSD, the highest ranking in the Honor Guard, accompanied by David Keller of Army National Guard, Kevin Overcash of the Air Force, Chris Darcy of the Army, Amanda Pensyl, Army and Larisa Lopez, Army.
The flag was dedicated to the soldiers killed in the Fort Hood tragedy and was accepted by Rebecca Keck, an honorary recipient representing the families of the fallen soldiers.
Tramontina says he coordinates this event each year "to honor the Veterans. My father and my son were both Marines. It's my way of saying 'thank you' to the Veterans. It is been about teaching our students to honor and respect our Veterans."