Gone but not forgotten: McKinley students celebrate Memorial Day

William McKinley I.S. 259 hosted a Memorial Day ceremony on Friday, May 24 to pay homage to military personnel who lost their lives defending the country.

Principal Janice Geary welcomed guests including veterans, community leaders, McKinley students and their families for the purpose of teaching students the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Geary discussed the significance of the poppy worn to commemorate fallen heroes on Memorial Day. According to Geary, “The poppy flower is worn to remember the fallen, to honor those who have died in battle, in commemoration of the ultimate sacrifice made by men and women during combat.”

English Language Arts teacher Jessica Amato coordinated the event and her students presented a moving skit portraying five friends who grew up together during the 1960s in Flatbush and ended up fighting in the Vietnam War. All five young men were killed in action.

The emotional story engaged the audience of middle school students and adults alike, as it was revealed that these five men had their lives cut short as they wielded weapons through elephant grass, amidst swampy lands in the jungles of Vietnam.

Amato noted that one of the boys in the skit acted the part of her own uncle, Joseph Charles Russo, who was killed 50 years ago in Vietnam. Amato stated, “Freedom is priceless, but comes at the price of lives lost: the ultimate sacrifice.”

The McKinley band performed at the ceremony and the national anthem was sung by student Elisa Luo. Student Leo Zhao played Taps. Among those attending the event were District 20 Community Superintendent Karina Costantino and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Joe O’Brien.

In her remarks, Geary explained the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day — that Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans while Memorial Day pays tribute to those who died while serving — before inviting the veterans to speak about their individual experiences while serving in the military.

The guest speakers included Herb Morales, John Cullen, Ed Pankowski, Maj. Juan Diaz and Ray Aalbue, chairperson of Brooklyn’s 152nd Memorial Day Parade.

“The staff at McKinley do such a great job teaching their students about 
Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” Aalbue told this paper. “I’ve been to quite a few of these celebrations and they are well-thought-out by the staff and executed by 
the students who are very enthusiastic. When you enter the building, children meet you at the door saying, ‘Thank you for your service,” Aalbue went on.

Aalbue was impressed that the auditorium was lined with the school’s cheerleaders who warmly greeted the guests and helped escort them to their seats. The veterans were seated up on the stage as the color guard presented the colors.

“Everyone encouraged the children to study hard and make a difference in the world,” said Aalbue, who spoke about Memorial Day and urged the approximately 400 children in the auditorium to “remember all those who died in selfless service to our country.”

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