Veterans Honor SSgt. TJ Lobraico Jr. with a Memorial Plaque at the Sherman School Assembly

On Veterans Day, over 450 students, faculty, parents, veterans with relatives, and elected officials attended the 5th Annual Veterans Day Assembly held at the Sherman School. IMG_5230They congregated to formally honor all veterans and to share the significance of this national day of recognition with the students. The Sherman Veterans Association also formally recognized SSgt. TJ (Todd James) Lobraico Jr., a fallen US Air Force soldier who died serving in Afghanistan in 2013. He was a Sherman School 2004 graduate and a New Fairfield High School 2008 graduate. Several members of his family live in both Sherman and New Fairfield and many were in attendance.

The Master of Ceremonies was US Navy Veteran Ed Hayes. The impressive one-hour assembly officially began with a student drumroll as the veterans walked in one-by-one to take their places of honor. Each veteran then went up to the podium and shared with the audience his or her name and branch of service. Some of the World War II veterans shared their stories, humor, and connections with the community so the students could better relate.

After the introductions, Interim Principal IMG_5109Andrew Schoefer talked with the students about “why we are here today” and “what does that mean?” He said that Veterans Day “is a time to give thanks to these great men and women who have done their part to ensure our way of life. Veterans Day is about taking a time out from what we do to honor those who have served our country, from the Revolutionary War to World War II, and for those who continue to keep our country safe.”

Next, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited by all. SSgt. TJ Lobraico Jr.’s sister, Alexa Lobraico, and other students Courtney DaCunha and Kayla Fierko, beautifully sang The Star-Spangled Banner.

IMG_5221Then, a prayer was said by a guest reverend. Afterward, Mr. Hayes introduced State Senator Michael McLachlan, State Representative Richard A. Smith, and Selectman Bob Ostrosky, and he commended these elected officials for attending this assembly.

Commander of the Sherman Veterans Association and US Air Force Veteran, Monty Clark, was the keynote speaker. Right before Mr. Clark Spoke, Mr. Hayes asked a student to answer a question about the significance of Normandy because Mr. Clark just got back from a trip to Normandy. A student summarized how the Invasion of Normandy was a major invasion that took place in France during World War II.

Mr. Clark then related the historical invasion and the loss of lives to SSgt. TJ Lobraico Jr.’s story. He was also a courageous solider who died in active duty while serving our Country, but in Afghanistan.

IMG_5169TJ’s medal of honors include a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. His described acts of courage and sacrifice captivated the audience, especially many of the students. Mr. Clark also shared TJ’s long-term plan, which was to be a police officer like his father. Mr. Clark then elaborated more on how the Sherman School was an important part of this young man’s foundation while growing up.

The next part of this touching ceremony involved much student participation. Several Grade 7 students read aloud what “freedom” personally means to them. IMG_5128After that, Grade 7 and Grade 8 students presented to the veterans patriotic ribbons tied around “official Sherman veteran banners.” School Counselor Anita Brown shared with the audience how many of the Grade 7 and Grade 8 students read military stories to the younger students and how the ribbons bestowed to the veterans have meaningful descriptor words written on them by the students. Grade 5 then presented homemade poppies to each of the veterans. The final memento was given to the veterans by the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. Mr. Hayes then told everyone how many of the veterans have kept all of the mementos from the children through the years and how special they are to the veterans.

IMG_5198The Assembly began to wind down with words well said by both State Representative Richard A. Smith and Selectman Bob Ostrosky. Mr. Smith shared his insight into the meaning of Veterans Day. He said how he observed some people saying “happy Veterans Day” and he thinks it should be more like “thank you Veterans Day.” He also feels that people should say “thank you” to the veterans every single day and we should “thank them for their sacrifice, their service, and for doing what they have done for us because without them we don’t have what we have…” Mr. Ostrosky expressed his gratitude to all veterans in an eloquent speech. He summed it up nicely with a quote by Elmer Davis. “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

Near the end of the service, several of the grades continued to honor veterans by singing the US Military songs of the five branches. Lead by Music Teacher Steven Trinchillo, Grade 4 sang the Coast Guard’s Semper Paratus (Always Ready), Grade 5 sang The Air Force Song, Grade 6 sang the Navy’s Anchors Aweigh, Grade 7 sang the Marines’ Hymn, and Grade 8 sang the Army’s Caisson Song.

IMG_5156After the last song, Mr. Schoefer mentioned how TJ was his student 15 years ago and he reiterated some of his lifetime academic and military achievements. He stressed the meaning of Veterans Day to the students and said “boys and girls, this is why we stop what we are doing on November 11th and say ‘thank you’ to all brave men and women who ensure our freedom.”

Senior Chief anIMG_5222.JPGd US Navy Veteran William Butts then read aloud the inscription on the memorial plaque, which is a gift from the Sherman Veterans Association: In honor of Todd James “TJ” Lobraico, Jr. Nov. 23, 1990 – Sept. 5, 2013. Sherman School Class of 2004. Wounded and died serving our country. Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan.

On a solemn note, Hunter Johnson, a Grade 3 IMG_5217student, played an Amazing Grace rendition on his recorder and the reverend concluded with a benediction. Chip Zellner then performed Taps on his bugle.

Once the Assembly ended, each class lined up single file and went outside in the dreary weather to view the memorial plaque. It was a somber time to honor TJ along with all veterans of the US Military for their service and dedication to protect and serve our Country.

Story and Photos by Alicia Sakal. A short version appeared in the November 18th edition of the Citizen News.

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