Remembering our country’s fallen.
On Wednesday, May 16, William McKinley I.S. 259 held its annual Memorial Day tribute, which this year featured touching poems for soldiers who lost their lives fighting for their country’s freedom as well as performances from the school’s marching band and concert string orchestra, and appearances by veterans and local community leaders.
Principal Janice Geary was once again proud of the significant event and the impact it has on her students.
“As educators, we teach them but from the book, it’s just words,” she explained. “But when you have veterans come out, it brings it to life. I’m a big fan of that. With this age group particularly, it connects the words to real life and people, so you’re not just talking about people that served in a war. You’re listening to real people. I hope it stays with them as a lifelong lesson.”
Veterans were equally impressed with the festivities and the children that put the event together.
“Personally, it’s a remembrance of all my buddies that got killed in Vietnam. I carry a bracelet with their names on it. It never leaves me,” said Harold Purnell, commander of the Disabled American Veterans and second vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who has attended McKinley’s Memorial Day event for four years now. “The kids are excellent. The wonderful thing about this school is that everyone is patriotic, and it’s excellent to see that today’s kids aren’t just thinking of themselves.”
Geary shared similar sentiments.
“I think they get a lot of meaning out of it. These kids get it,” she said.
“It’s a commemoration of the fallen men and women who laid down their lives for us,” said seventh grader Malak Taillouli. “They sacrificed and risked everything for our sake and our rights. Without these veterans and fallen soldiers, we would not have the freedom we have today. Now men and women can serve in the army. We all have basic freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.”
“It is an honor to be part of this ceremony because it gives me a chance to honor those who were out there overseas to protect my rights and freedom,” added student Megan Yan. “To give what I can do to pursue my career. I believe these soldiers should be commemorated because of their bravery, courage, and selflessness. I also think this should happen more often because I learned from this ceremony that McKinley is the first to do this ceremony. I hope many schools throughout the district will do the same.”
Towards the end of the ceremony, students chose five fallen heroes that were all born in Brooklyn — Bernard Garvin, Alejandro Anthony Alcencio, Leonard Barone, Joseph Otto Behnke and Jabari Thompson — and paid tribute to each.
“The ceremony was excellent,” added veteran Steve Placanica. “The presentation at the end, the slides they were doing of soldiers that were killed was very, very touching to me and it really hit a spot in me. It showed what Memorial Day is supposed to be. Not a day about barbecues or what stores have sales.”
During the ceremony, Fort Hamilton Commander Peter Sicoli also spoke to the children.
“It is important to honor those who have gone before us,” he said. “I have been in the army serving proudly for 27 years. Since the day I signed up, I’ve been very proud of my country. I’ve been to Iraq on three separate occasions and I will tell you those deployments are hard on a soldier but it is ever harder on the families we leave behind. We’re with a team. Days go by quick. Those back home, there are missed holidays and birthdays, and everything that happens in a year. We can’t ever get that back. As we take time to celebrate those that have gone before us I want to remember and remind families that there are military out there defending freedom. Those folks should not be forgotten.”
Raymond Aalbue, chairperson of the Kings County Memorial Day Parade, explained the oath he took when joining the Air Force in 1967.
“You really didn’t understand the oath until you got older and wiser,” he told the packed crowd. “I realize a lot of things, like what I accomplished in life and took for granted because I served my country and I’m sure everyone behind me can say the same thing. One thing we also did was we went home. We started families, got jobs. Some of us were spit on, but we moved forward and got involved in our communities.”
I.S. 259 is located at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway.