Local students honor veterans

Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Students at Lighthouse Christian School show their thanks to local veterans during the school's annual Veterans Day program.Coastal Point • Maria Counts: Students at Lighthouse Christian School show their thanks to local veterans during the school's annual Veterans Day program.Approximately 140 students at Lighthouse Christian School were able to honor area veterans last week at the school’s annual Veterans Day program. During the program, students sang songs to the veterans in attendance, including “God Bless America” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

Army veteran and VFW Post 7234 Commander Fulton Loppatto spoke to the students about the area’s Operation SEAs the Day program, whose mission is “to organize and facilitate a beach week event for our wounded soldiers and their families as a means of showing our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. It is our hope that such a community-based gesture of support will be comforting and help ease their transition back into civilian life.”

“This is something we can all get involved with,” said Loppatto.

He said that, in the creation of the nonprofit, it was important for the founders, Becky Johns, Diane Pohanka and Richard Katon, to provide a week for the warriors and their families, who are with the veterans through thick and thin.

“They really wanted to highlight how important the family units are,” he said. “The children are really an important part of a solid recovery.”

This past September, in its second year, Operation SEAs the Day brought 30 soldiers and their families to the Bethany area. Loppatto said that throughout the week, the families were greeted by signs made by community members, welcoming them to the area. He requested that Lighthouse Christian Students create signs to help welcome the families to the area.

A large part of Operation SEAs the Day is bringing the community together, said Loppatto, with hundreds of volunteers and more than 100 businesses contributing to the week.

“It’s an opportunity for them to meet each other,” said Loppatto of the event. “To find out they’re not alone, that there are other families like them… It’s a chance for the families to bond together.”

Navy veteran Ed Feeley spoke about American Legion Post 28’s Warrior Weekend Program, which funds free weekend getaways for wounded servicemen recovering at military medical centers and their families. The program was started by retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Udovich in 2007, following a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“The mission is to provide weekends of rest, relaxation and fun for these heroes,” said Feeley. “In recent years, we have been fortunate to rent a beach house over in Rehoboth.”

The Warrior Weekend Program offers seven to nine trips each year, for groups of around eight to 12 veterans and their families. So far, 49 trips have taken place, giving 490 veterans, and their friends and families a nice weekend away from the medical facilities.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to take them and their families outside a hospital environment,” Feeley said, noting that the program is funded strictly through donations. “It’s a very rewarding program.”

During the program, retired Marine 1st Sgt. William Kandravi and Tina Washington of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 28 presented the “white table ceremony,” honoring those lost during conflict.

“We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured and may still be enduring the agonies of pain, deprivation and imprisonment,” said Washington.

“We call your attention to this small table that occupies a place of dignity and honor. It is set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing from our ranks. They are referred to as POWs and MIAs. We call them comrades. They are unable to be with their loved ones and families, so we join together to pay humble tribute to them and to bear witness to their continued absence.”

Fourth-grader Elisha Jones and eighth-grader Alex Lloyd-Wood recited the story of “Taps,” before a moment of silence.

Fifth-grader Izzy Donihue read a tribute to her cousin, a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, who has served two combat tours and a humanitarian tour during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

“I stand here today to honor my brave cousin who fights for my freedom. I stand here today to thank all of you for your service in protecting us,” she said.

During the program, seventh-grader Megan Hayden also read a letter of appreciation.

“Thank you for protecting me when I sleep. Or when I eat dinner or when I pray. You sacrificed yourself for my freedom and protection. You take whatever comes your way and you don’t give up until the job is finished.”

Ayden Ferris, a fifth-grader, read to those in attendance “What the Veterans Have Done for Us.”

“It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of the press. It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech… We will always love and appreciate your service.”

The program was concluded with a “handshake of thanks,” for which those veterans in attendance lined the front of the church and shook hands with every student, who each thanked them for their service.

“I thank you for coming today to allow us, to allow our students, to allow our staff to just say, ‘Thank you,’” said Lighthouse Christian School Director Terri Menoche to attending veterans. “I can’t thank you enough for all you do, for all you have done and all you will do… This is just a small thing we can do to say, ‘Thank you.’”

For more information on Operation SEAs the Day, visit www.operationseastheday.org. For more information on the Warrior Weekend Program, visit www.warriorweeek-end.com.