Local veterans were treated to a morning musical Nov. 10, when Ocean Palms Elementary students took to the stage for a Veterans Day celebration.
For the third straight year, the school welcomed veterans and their families to the cafeteria to hear the Ocean Palms Show Choir and Fun Friday Music Club, directed by music teacher Jennifer Schlechte, as they performed renditions of patriotic songs of old. Alongside a set list consisting of “God Bless the U.S.A.” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and other classic anthems, several children stepped up to the microphone to give thanks to the servicemen and women in the crowd, many of whom were their parents. The students also shared their creations with their parents, running the gamut from poems to essays.
“In my younger life, I grew up as part of a military family,” Principal Jessica Richardson said. “And I know that for me, personally, my parents instilled the importance of the flag and what it represents in me and my sister. They taught us the rights … and sacrifice and values that it stands for, and to honor those things even when we couldn’t see it.
“I know that a lot of the parents here today have those same values,” she continued. “So we thank you for being here as we all do the same for our kids.”
A show of thanks
During the celebration, Richardson also unveiled a rendering of the school’s planned “Hero Field,” illustrated by PGA Tour Production Artist Nikki Haywood. The field is under renovation in memory of Charles Keating IV, a Navy Seal who was killed in combat in May. Keating’s younger sister, Ali Joseph, is a fifth-grader at OPE.
Richardson welcomed the family to the stage, where they thanked the PTO members, volunteers and supporters who made the field a possibility.
“Thank you for giving him this legacy,” Keating’s mother, Krista Joseph, said. “A legacy that (will be shared) with Ali and the students of Ocean Palms Elementary.”
When complete, the field will be a multi-purpose activity field for soccer, kickball and outdoor classroom space. It will also feature a weather station and a dedicated brick area with bench swings to honor heroes in the community, as well as a dedicated path for walking and running. The first brick paver will be dedicated to in memory of Keating.
In addition, three fifth-grade students were presented with contest awards by Linda Williams, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 233, for their essays on “Americanism.” Ava Pollock, who read her essay on stage, was the state winner for Florida.
Following the show tunes, Richardson asked servicemen and women in the crowd to stand to be recognized as they introduced themselves and shared their years of service. First Lt. Denis Oliverio then invited the audience to participate in the tradition of the Marine Corps Cake Cutting Ceremony for the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Oliverio cut the birthday cake with a sword and presented the first slice to Joseph, the guest of honor.
The second slice, per tradition, was shared between the oldest marine in the room, William B. O’Malley – “the most ‘seasoned’ marine,” Oliverio joked – and the youngest, David Cavanaugh.
A note of thanks
The show of gratitude didn’t end with the morning’s festivities. Guests enjoyed refreshments provided by the PGA Tour, and Richardson revealed that the school was participating in Operation Gratitude, wherein every student writes a card of appreciation to the military and collects candy, both of which were presented to the Mayport USO.
Though the gestures of gratitude speak volumes themselves, Richardson says she and the school will never tire of paying homage to their veterans.
“We just always look forward to this time of year when we … get the opportunity to show our men and women in uniform how much what they do means to us,” she said. “And we’re so grateful to have the support of this community.”