In Canaan, a Play About Military History Instills Lessons
Canaan Elementary School fourthgrader Hannah Gove sings "Thank You Soldiers" with third graders singing the chorus for the start of Remembering Our Heros at the school in Canaan, N.H., on Nov. 8, 2013.Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Canaan Elementary School third graders Lauren Gilliland, left, and Nikki Wright wait outside the gym with other students before the start of the school's Veteran's Day program on Nov. 8, 2013 in Canaan, N.H. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Veterans (from left) Dan Fleetham, Raymond Stone and Scott Gaudette listen during the Canaan School Elementary Veteran's Day Program on Nov.8, 2013, in Canaan, N.H. Fleetham and Stone were both in the Navy, Gaudette was in the Air Force. Fleetham is 101. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Canaan — Geraldine Daniels points to a black and white photo on the wall of a young woman. It’s of a fresh-eyed and smiling, staring out from a sea of similarfaces. The woman in the photo is wearing a crisply pressed uniform and a smart cap.
“That’s me,” Daniels said with a smile that perfectly matches the younger woman’s in the long-ago photo. Daniels joined the Women’s Army Corps — or WAC as it was called — right out of high school in 1956. During her stint in the Army, she worked as an operating room technician.
She pointed to other photos on the wall, all of men in military uniform.
“That’s my son. That’s my grandson and that’s my other son. He just retired a full bird Colonel.”
Daniels’ face reflected a quiet pride.
“I am very proud of them,” she said, before turning the corner and heading down the hall of Canaan Elementary School where she along with dozens of other veterans were being honored by the third and fourth grade classes during the schools’ annual Veterans Day Program on Friday.
During the hour-long event in the school’s cafeteria, students wearing red, white and blue tie-dye shirts presented a short play about the origins of Veterans Day, named the different branches of the military and read off the number of veterans still alive from America’s wars.
The audience of veterans looked clearly delighted, nor were the lessons from the play lost on the students.
“I learned that Veterans are very important people because they served our country for awhile,” said Hannah Gove, 9, who sang Thank You Soldiers and America the Beautiful during the program. “And I mean (kids) are part of the country, too, so I mean they should probably honor the people who made it free.”
As for the Veterans themselves, many of whom served during Vietnam War, they said they were the ones who were grateful.
“When people come out it means a lot to us,” said Peter St. Pierre, 64, of Lebanon who served in the Army during Vietnam. “Because it’s never too late to say thank you to a Vet. ...Veterans really appreciate knowing that what they did is being appreciated by the people they did it for.”
St. Pierre, who grew up in Claremont, said that when he returned home after two tours in Vietnam, he had to find his own way home from the airport in Texas. It was a lonely return.
“When I came back, they discharged me at Fort Hood, (in Texas) and I had to find my own transportation back (to New Hampshire),” he said. “I flew home, got home in the middle of the night, knocked on my mother’s door to get into the house.”
He said a lot has changed since that tumultuous time for the better, including the fact that soldiers now aren’t sent home by themselves, but instead with their units.
“So to have people come out and support us. It means a lot. Even if it’s 50 years later,” he said.
Wesley St. Pierre, no relation, but also 64 and from Lebanon, was an infantryman in the Army during Vietnam. He said he had a similar experience.
“When I came back from overseas, I got back as quick as I could,” he said. “And I came home and I was wearing my uniform and I was hitchhiking and I walked more than I could get a ride. People were very reluctant to pick up anyone hitchhiking in a uniform.
“Now we’re respected, everyone who served is getting the respect they deserve. It’s so much better now.”
Wesley St. Pierre said he loves programs like Fridays at Canaan Elementary and believes it instills a sense of patriotism and pride for both the students and the audience.
“It’s great that they learn the sacrifices that we go through to do this. I feel honored and proud to stand up in front of these kids and to be here to listen to their program,” St, Pierre.
He said more than anything he hopes they learn that, “Being a veteran is something that you should be proud of. Not something that makes you go and hide your head in a corner. You should be proud that you served your country.”
Dino Voahakis, a former Navy pilot who served from 1957 to 1971, was also at the program and serves as the historian for the Lebanon American Legion Post 22, many of whom were in attendance. He said he hopes the students not only appreciate veterans, but take the time to learn the history of past and current conflicts.
“I have an uncle who I never knew that’s buried over in France. He died Oct. 3 1918, just a couple days before Armistice Day. My father served in World War I,” Voahakis said. “Back then people grew up knowing about the wars. This generation, I don’t know if they get it or not.”
He said he hoped events like this one help to change that.
“Just to be more aware of where freedom comes from,” he said. “And what it takes.”