BATAVIA — The veterans were at Batavia High School Thursday partly to hear what Veterans Day means to them.
A few of the students shared their thoughts that morning during an assembly for BHS Celebrates Veterans Day in the High School Auditorium.
To Adrien Fytros, the day, which is today, is to honor those who put their family, community, and, most of all, their country and its residents before themselves.
“Those that have served in any branch of the military are easily the least selfish people in our community and should be treated as such. They are those who would put themselves through intense, rough, and enduring training for years to ensure that we can carry on a worry free life, explore our interests, and pursue our own careers and dreams we’ve sought out for,” Adrien said. “Veterans Day as a whole is to honor and give a spotlight to these brave and compassionate people that allow us to do everything we’ve desired to do.”
Lilyanna Burke admitted she used to think of Veterans Day the way she did any other holiday — as a day off from school.
“However, now that I am older and more aware, I realize the significance of this day. Veteran is commonly used in the context of one who has worked for a long period of time,” she said. “Because it is so frequent, oftentimes the double connotation gets lost. A veteran is not someone who has been around, but someone who has served, who is devoted and made sacrifices. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity to show my appreciation to those who have so graciously put the needs of the many before their own, and fought for our country.”
Nate Canale walked to the podium to say that Veterans Day is a day to show respect to all of veterans, who have fought so hard and risked their lives for our freedom.
“It is a time to give back to the veterans who have already sacrificed so much for us. We can use this day to honor and show kindness to the people who have given their service to our armed forces by helping them with their needs, spending time with them, or even by just showing them our gratitude,” he said.
When it was Shawn Kimball’s turn to speak, he told the gathering of veterans, faculty and staff, and community members that the day is a celebration of the fundamental values of military service, loyalty to your country, patriotism and the defense of solely American values.
“As a child from a military family, I have had a first-hand view of the courage, honor, and dedication showcased by all veterans and it is my belief that any form of military service is the most American thing someone can do,” he said. “Every Veterans Day is a chance to give thanks to those who would put their lives on the line to protect their fellow citizens and make the ultimate sacrifice to keep the red, white, and blue flying proudly over our great country.”
Among the several veterans in the auditorium on Thursday was Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, who gave the keynote address before going right from Batavia to another event.
Hawley said he’s had the pleasure to meet and get to know so many people over the years that he’s been serving.
“We have a Patriot Trip that we take to Washington D.C. every year. Thus far, we’ve had 13 of those trips, and over 1,500 veterans have accompanied us by bus, and their family members,” he said. “We visit many, many parts of DC that are either in memory or in gratitude to those who served, including the World War II monument, the Korean monument and the Vietnam monument. We also visit the Capitol. We visit the Naval Academy sometimes. Probably the most meaningful part of the trip that we do, and emotional, if you will, is when we go to Arlington Cemetery, where, all of you realize, that’s where so many of our veterans who have passed, are buried,” he said.
“The most meaningful and the most emotional is when four of our veterans, each year, participate at the Tomb of the Unknowns in the laying of the wreath,” Hawley went on. “I can tell you one World War II veteran, Mike … who actually asked me to sponsor this trip, finished his laying of the wreath with three other veterans, came to the top of the steps. The sergeant from one of the Tomb the Unknowns guards came up, took his rifleman’s badge off of his uniform, pinned it on the wool uniform of the World War II veteran, and folks have said they’ve never seen anything like that before. As you can well imagine, because of that World War II veteran’s service, tears were coming down his eyes … onto his cheeks and there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.” Mike died three years later, Hawley said.
“When I went to pay my respects and walked by the coffin and thanked Mike for his service, there he was in his uniform, the same uniform he wore on that Patriot Trip,” Hawley said. “Indeed, that Tomb of the Unknowns sergeant’s rifleman’s badge was on his uniform.”
One of the highlights of his year, Hawley said, is paying respects to the veterans who have served us.
“All around us, serving our nation today, are brave men and women who believe in the cause of freedom, just as we do,” he said. “They have answered the call to service. They have enlisted and are hundreds and thousands of miles away from home, in faraway places, defending right this very moment.”
Besides Hawley, a veteran himself, there were at least 16 veterans in the audience, including three school faculty members. Honored for their services were the following veterans in the community: Tom Cecere, Navy; Colin Dailey, Marines (husband to Lindsay Dailey, BHS social worker); John Dwyer, Marines; Robert Haggett, Army (Band Director Jane Haggett’s father); William Hughes, Army; Dennis Mahoney, Air Force; Harold McJury, Navy; Rocco Pellegrino, Navy; Thomas Steffinella, Army; Vincent Pontillo, Marines; John Gombos (police officer), Marines; Rich Favaloro, Army; Matt Lutey (police officer), Air Force.
The three faculty members recognized Thursday, with background information read by High School Principal Paul Kesler, were:
n Greg Ciszak, BHS school counselor: Ciszak served his country for 12 years in the 152nd Engineer Company as a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard. He was a horizontal construction engineer. His unit was activated for numerous state emergencies including snowstorms, floods and the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center disaster;
n Christopher Gorton, special education teacher: Gorton joined the Army in 1984 and was in active duty from 1984 to 1989. During a portion of his active duty, Gorton was stationed in Western Germany. He continued to be on inactive duty from 1989 to 1992. Gorton was twice awarded the Army Achievement Medal and earned a Good Conduct medal. His unit received its second presidential unit citation award while he was stationed in West Germany. To this day, Gorton still carries a challenge coin from President Reagan, the Commander in Chief that was given out to the unit.
n Christopher Weicher. BHS Earth science teacher, was a Marine who served from 1987 to 1991. Weicher completed two combat deployments during Operation Just Cause in Panama and Gulf War 1. While serving his country, he received two combat action ribbons, a Presidential Unit Citation and a Meritorious Unit Citation while serving with the 6th Marine Regiment.