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East Lyme - In a vibrant ceremony of song and remembrance outside of East Lyme Middle School Monday, students reflected upon the meaning of Veterans Day and applauded military service personnel.
"Today we celebrate America's veterans for keeping this nation the land of the free and the home of the brave," said student Raven Cantwell, reading introductory remarks from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Attendees at the annual ceremony applauded as principal Judy DeLeeuw gave medals to U.S. Navy veterans Robert Farrior, a third-class machinist mate, and Doug Medley, a senior chief torpedoman, at a podium in front of the school's veterans' memorial garden. The Connecticut Veterans Wartime Service Medals were bestowed on behalf of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hundreds of students also spiritedly sang "Happy Birthday" to Craig Stelling, a 93-year-old veteran Coast Guard signalman.
The ceremony, attended by about 58 veterans and guests, as well as students, school and community officials, featured the national anthem by the school's choral groups and a medley by the East Lyme Middle School Band.
Essays from five middle-school students - Kamryn Ebersole, Arianna Stepania, Eric Song, Andrew Dezjot and Kaitlin Kluge - expressed what Veterans Day meant to them.
"The military faces circumstances every day that we cannot even begin to comprehend as adolescents. Veterans are called many names: courageous, brave, fearless, heroic - but honestly none of them suffice." said Arianna in part of her essay. "So what does Veterans Day mean to me? A day when I should be genuinely grateful to have such astonishing people to fight for me, everyone in this building and who fight for America."
"Every year we spend our November 11th letting the proud patriots of our country know how we gratefully appreciate their bravery," said Eric in his essay. "Their actions and sacrifices to keep this country safe are never forgotten."
The school had held panels before the ceremony in which veterans shared their experiences with the students. Resident John McCaffery, a World War II veteran who served in the British merchant navy and British navy, said he shared stories, such as how he was onboard the HMS Dorsetshire when it fired the final torpedoes into the German battleship Bismarck in 1941, and picked up survivors.