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Lee Elementary School Honors Veterans
By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
05:19AM / Friday, November 10, 2023
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State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli spoke about his father's service during World War II and encouraged students to learn about world conflicts.
LEE, Mass. — Lee Elementary School honored veterans for their sacrifices and service at a gathering attended by community veterans, public officials, and students on Thursday morning. 
"[Veterans Day is] a day when we come together to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces, protecting our freedom and our way of life," Superintendent Michael Richard wrote in a letter read by first grade teacher Lori Curtin.  
"[This assembly] is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn and reflect on the sacrifices and dedication of our veterans." 
As each name of a veteran family or friend was called out, cheers erupted from school faculty and students to honor the sacrifices they made. 
The servicemen and -women who did not make it back home were also recognized with a moment of silence. 
Throughout the event, speakers urged the importance of recognizing veterans by listening to their stories. 
"It's clear that what veterans mean to the students of [Lee Elementary School] is tied to words like service, helping. protection, sacrifice, safety and pride. We all have a level of personal connection to the word veteran," Principal Timothy Mertinooke said. 
"For some, there is a daily reminder. For others, it might be a word that they hear once per year in November. No matter one's level of personal connection, a gathering like this is meant to show and model the respect that each of you deserve, and to begin making a personal connection with the word for the children in front of you." 
During the ceremony the chorus from Grades 4,5 and 6 sang patriotic-themed songs including "Thank You, Soldiers," a veterans version of "Hallelujah," and "See the Veterans" sung to the tune of "Frère Jacques." Band teacher Erin White and Grade 6 trumpet players Declan Bowlé, Ryleigh Fillio and Gemma O'Neil performed taps.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli said he "choked up" during the students' performances because it made him think about his father, John J. Pignatelli, who died in 2019. 
Pignatelli is named after his father's best friend, William Smith, who died in 1945 while they were serving during World War II. Smith, only 19, was killed in 1945 when the plane he was on crashed.
Pignatelli's father and uncles served their country but, like most veterans, were reluctant to talk about their experiences. 
It wasn't until toward the end of his father's life, when his Alzheimer's prompted him to share more, that he learned more about his namesake and his dad's service. 
Every day he thinks about his father and the sacrifices he and his fellow veterans made to preserve their county. The representative urged the audience members to ask the veterans in their life questions before it is too late. 
"Every day I think of [my father] and I think of questions that I would want to ask him, still. Don't wait for your family members to pass and have any regrets about asking questions about what they did to preserve our freedoms and protect this beautiful country," he said.
Pignatelli also encouraged them to go home and turn on the nightly news and hear about the current conflicts from the war in Israel in the Gaza strip, the war between Russia and Ukraine, the unrest between China and Taiwan, the battles in Syria, and problems all over the world. 
"These [veterans] are the ones that historically had stepped up to the plate and hit a home run to preserve our freedom. We live in a beautiful part of the world," he said.
"You are going to school in a beautiful community. Your parents and your grandparents and your teachers are investing time in you to have a good quality of life. These are the unsung heroes." 
This sentiment was echoed by veteran, parent and School Committee member Kirk Nichols who worked with the Marines while serving in the Navy for four years. 
Although at the time he saw it as a big adventure with friends, he can now see the hardships, including being away from his family. 
"I see that our sacrifices were for something much bigger than just us, they were for all of you. Our service to our country protected the freedoms we enjoy today. These freedoms include the freedom to practice any religion we choose, the freedom to read books and believe it or not, the freedom to go to school," Nichols said. 
"It is hard to believe, but there are parts of this world where kids like you are not allowed to go to school. We are all truly lucky."
The ceremony concluded with a statement of hope for a brighter future. 
"I hope we all someday live in a world where we would celebrate veterans today but we don't have any veterans," Pignatelli said. 
"Think about how special that would be because we're in a world of peace. I don't see that happening anytime soon. So, to these men and women over here, thank you."
Photos from the event here.
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