More than 20 veterans from surrounding communities visited East Meadow High School students on May 23 to share what it was like for them to serve.
“We wanted to come here and tell the high school students what it was like to serve,” Frank Belardo a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2736, in East Meadow, said. “We wanted to do this before Memorial Day to teach the students and honor those who did not come home.”
Frank Salamino, quartermaster for Post 2736, and Belardo rounded up as many veterans as they could to participate, and students gathered to listen to them during their social studies periods.
“Memorial Day is a special holiday observed in the United States on the last Monday of May of each year,” Frank Baglivo, the school’s chair of English and social studies, told the seniors. “Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring and remembering the men and women who have died while serving in the country’s armed forces.”
Memorial Day has four purposes, Baglivo told the students: to honor the sacrifices of those who died; to remember and reflect; to maintain national unity; and to pay homage to those who served.
“Memorial Day encourages people to reflect upon the cost of freedom and the tremendous sacrifices made by members of our military,” Baglivo continued. “It provides a solemn occasion to remember the fallen heroes and express gratitude for their unwavering commitment to defending the nation.”
East Meadow seniors watched a color guard made up of service members bringing in the flags. They said the Pledge of Allegiance and listened to the national anthem. Master Sgt. Peter Gong, who served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army and Air Force reserves, played taps.
For roughly 30 minutes students visited veterans seated at various tables, with a list of more than 30 questions to ask them, including where and when they served, how long, how old they were, and whether they would do it again.
“I learned about the different jobs that go into making the military work smoothly,” senior Gianna Devita said. “I talked to one veteran who was a mechanic in the Air Force. It was definitely eye-opening getting to hear their experiences.”
Both Salamino and Belardo said they enjoyed the questions the students were asking them. Salamino said that it was important to teach students what it’s like to be American.
“I enjoyed the questions because today’s kids are afraid of going into the military,” Belardo said. “But I’m living proof that they took care of you and it was fun. It wasn’t just a job, it was also an adventure.”
Senior Ama Nkrumah said she found the event really interesting, and liked seeing how passionate all of the veterans were when they were sharing their experiences.
“I talked a lot with Mr. Christopher Hubert,” Nkrumah said. “He had a lot to say, especially with his stories. He was a submarine vet, and he had a lot of scary encounters when he was doing that.”
Tom Kelly, an East Meadow resident who served in the Navy during the 70s, said it was nice to share with the students about how proud he and other vets are to have served.
“It seems like less kids are going down that route of joining the military. So you just have to keep reminding them about the commitment to America and how proud we are,” Kelly, a member of American Legion post 1082, said. “It’s something that should be carried on. It seems like it’s a dying art these days, but I hope not. It was something I’ll always remember, and without a doubt I would do it over again.”