Veterans head back to elementary school
Tradition continues at Saylesville as students bring in family members who have served, or are serving US
LINCOLN — It was a day for veterans at the Saylesville Elementary School Friday morning as the school continued its tradition of having students bring a family member to school who has served their country in the military.
In all 13 veterans from Rhode Island and beyond joined the school’s Veteran’s Day weekend program and shared their stories with the students when later going back to speak to the classes of their family members.
The morning’s veterans tribute, run by the students themselves, included leading everyone gathered in the school’s cafeteria/auditorium in the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem. There were also a few special moment’s like Louie Ranieri, Student Council president, and Joshua Denson, a fourth grader, handling the master of ceremonies and special announcements duties, and Domino Costa, also a Student Council representative, offering his thoughts on the significance of Veterans Day, as “a day to honor all veterans.”
Fifth grader Grant Koloski, read the gathering his Veteran’s Day poem about the American flag. “I love Veterans Day and so should you,” Koloski said. “They fought for our rights, they fought for our lives, and they fought for what was right,” he said.
Ava Good, a fifth grader, concluded the student presentations while telling the veteran participants they would now be added to the school’s “Wall of Honor.”
State Director of Veterans Affairs Kasim Yarn was among the veterans gathered in front of the student body in the cafeteria and told them that their program had really impressed him.
“I am so proud of you,” Yarn said. “When I saw all the flags waving when I walked into your school, being a veteran myself, I felt it was such an honor to be here celebrating all of our veterans with you,” he said.
Saylesville Principal Reza Sarkarati commended the students leaders for their efforts to make the veterans welcome and noted they in turn would be telling the students what they had experienced during the military service when the classroom visits were held.
“It is a day for all of us to listen to the veterans,” Sarkarati said.
Veteran Michael Alves, of Lincoln, started the talks in the cafeteria while telling the students the story of his late father-in-laws service with the Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II. His father-in-law’s ship, the Fletcher Class destroyer U.S.S. Bob Evans held five battle stars for its fighting in the Pacific but had a terrible day on May 11, 1945, when it and another destroyer came under an hour along attack by Japanese kamikaze planes. After running out of ammo near the end of the battle, the Bob Evans took a direct hit from a kamikaze and would have sunk had it not been for the valiant efforts of the crew.
“When the battle was over and they had saved the ship and a tender took of the all the casualties,” he noted. “Thirty two of the ship’s crewmen died and another 28 were wounded,” Alves said while relating the costs of that day for the Evans’ crew.
Later as the veterans met in smaller groups with the school’s students, Frank Crampton, who had joined the Air Force when he was 19, talked to students in his granddaughter Maddison Ashman’s class.
Maddison, her brother, Liam, and their parents, Ellen and Seth, all live in Lincoln and Crampton and his wife, Elizabeth, drove up from Middleport, Penn., to participate in the program.
Crampton said during his four years with the Air Force between 1966 and 1970, he worked in secure communications at bases in England and Alaska.
While he liked serving at his remote base in a beautiful section of Alaska near Denali National Park, Crampton told the students it was very cold there. So cold in fact, everyone on his base always had to keep their winter clothing nearby inside just in case something happened and they had to go outside.
A person would could easily suffer frostbite, Crampton said, if they were outside unprotected from the cold for even a short period of time.
John Cianci, of North Smithfield, former member of the Rhode Island Army National Guard who retired with 22 years service and two tours of duty in Iraq during the Gulf Wars, went to speak to both his granddaughter Gianna’s second grade class with Miss Menard, and his grandson Giovanni’s fifth-grade class with Mrs. Soares.
Cianci said the school had sent out a letter inviting students to bring a family member with military service to the Veterans Day program and when his grandchildren asked if he would attend, he said yes.
“I wanted to visit both of their classes,” Cianci said.
Cianci, a retired Master Sergeant who holds a combat achievement badge and Bronze Medal for his service with the Rhode Island’s Guard’s 119th Military Police unit in Desert Storm in 1991, and Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2003 and 2004, took along some of his military gear including his heavy flak jacket and an Iraqi military helmet he had brought home.
Cianci’s war experiences were difficult at times and included both loss of fellow soldiers and injuries from exposure to a cloud drifting from a destroyed cache of Iraqi arms believed to have included quantities of the nerve gas, Sarin. The effects of that exposure linger today and Cianci has a full disability from the Veterans Administration.
On Thursday, Cianci answered the Saylesville students questions about what it was like serve in a war and to be a military policeman, but also told them of the loss of three Rhode Island Guardsmen, SSG Joseph Camera and SGT Charles Caldwell of the 119th’s sister unit, the 115th MP Co., and also of the loss of SPC Michael Andrade, a soldier he had been a Platoon Sergeant for when he first joined the military.
“It’s a tremendous program,” Cianci said of his visit to Saylesville Elementary School.
“The young students got to talk one-on-one with the veterans and ask lots of questions,” he said.
Veterans like himself also got to explain what a war was like, he said. “I tried to tell them it is not a video game. You don’t get to hit the reset button and start all over again,” Cianci said.
“I explained that people sometimes die when they are serving their country and it is real,” he said.
The veterans also benefit from their talks with young people, said Cianci, who today serves as Department Commander of the Italian-American Veterans of Rhode Island and a board member of the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce.
“I look at it as the best mental health maintenance for any veteran,” Cianci said while noting the positive impacts of talking to young people.
It also represents an opportunity for the veterans to teach the students something they didn’t know, he added. “Not one child in the class knew what the POW/MIA symbol represented and I explained it to them,” he said.
Sitting in front of the veterans, from left, are second grader Sarah Oelbaum, as well as kindergarteners Ryan Picard and Alyssa DiMario.
R.I. Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarns, left, takes questions with Hanna Rodrigues
Retired Rhode Island National Guard member John Cianci stands with his grandchildren Gianna, left, and Giovanni Cianci.