The parking lots at Tommie Barfield Elementary (TBE) were all filled to capacity last Friday, and an appreciative crowd filed into the multi-purpose room for the 16th annual “A Salute to Our Veterans” program.
Parents, grandparents, community members and veterans were entertained in beautiful weather outside by violinist Kate Anderson before they gathered in the multi-purpose room to honor our local Veterans with songs and words of appreciation for their service.
Principal Katie Maya introduced the program and extended her thanks to the community and veterans for attending their special program, and introduced beloved music teacher, Mrs. Lisa Braren. Mrs. Maya pointed out the original personalized cards on the chairs for the veterans and hoped they would take them at the end of the program.
The Lely High School Junior ROTC Color Guard, under the direction of CW4 Michael Harp, marched through the crowd and presented the flags. The pledge to the flag and singing the National Anthem followed was conducted by the students.
With a subtle nod of her head, Mrs. Braren directed Lola Green to the stage to sing, “Thank You, Military.” There weren’t many dry eyes after hearing Lola’s beautiful voice spiraled through the room with such powerful lyrics.
Mrs. Maya announced to the audience that “a little birdy told her that someone in the audience was about to celebrate his 100th birthday,” and then called Herb Savage to the stage area, accompanied by his wife, Emily. The Honors Choir, along with Herb and Emily and the audience, sang Herb’s signature song, “God Bless America.” On behalf of the school, Mrs. Maya presented Herb with a special gift in honor of his decades-long involvement in Marco Island and service to our country, not to mention his years of enthusiastic singing.
Interspersed throughout the program was the history of Veterans Day from the time it was called Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day. It has been 100 years since the first armistice or peace was celebrated.
The TBE fifth graders sang the “Armed Forces Medley” and asked the veterans in the audience to stand when their branch of the service was mentioned in the song. It was thrilling to see men and women standing in all sections of the room, some looking around to see who else had served in the same branch. The next song was “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” proudly sung under a huge US flag behind the stage. Thanks to the TBE PTO, the decorations were inspiring.
Mrs. Maya and Assistant Principal Alyssa Ledbetter carried microphones through the audience and asked the Veterans to stand, give their names, service branch and rank. Many of them thanked the students and the school for their tributes and performance. Some identified their grandkids in the program with pride.
Several members of the Honor Choir performed a choral reading about the Preamble to the Constitution. By the end, most of the audience could recite more than just, “We, the People.” It was a stirring reminder of our history and the challenges that our country progressed through.
There was another surprise at the program. Chuck Purple, a local WW II veteran, accompanied by two members of the American Legion, presented a plaque to Mrs. Braren. The American Legion honored her for teaching her students patriotic songs and having them sing at various events in the area. Mrs. Braren was visibly surprised and moved by their recognition.
The program ended with a performance by third, fourth and fifth grade students of the song, “Proud to be an American,” with hand motions that emphasized key lyrics, a perfect way to end another Salute to Our Veterans.
Marco Island City Councilor Victor Rios commented, “I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen a lot of programs, but this one at Tommie Barfield Elementary is the best by far of any of them.”
Luca Rama wrote, “Dear Veteran, This is not just a letter, it’s thank you for our freedom. It’s not just a letter, it’s thank you for your sacrifice. It’s not just a letter, it’s thank you for your courage and bravery. Thank you for keeping our country safe. You are my HERO!”
Thank you, Veterans!
Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!