The Veterans Day festivities, on Wednesday November 6th, began with a “Veterans Walk”, where all attendees toured the the halls of the school; posters, and flags covered in red, white and blue filled the hallways. The presentation then continued into the Shore’s auditorium, where Assistant Principal Mr. Bruccoleri announced each veteran and their ranking. Shore was lucky to be in the same room as Walt Frattin and Peter Bova, two men who served in World War II. After being announced, all 30 heroes broke out into separate rooms to share their stories with members of the senior class.
In-room D-10, there was Sergeant Robert Ashton, Sergeant Lawrence Seymour, Sergeant Jon Keller, and Sergeant Jake Rodrigo, all ready to share their story with the eager seniors. Each man had a different reason why they had decided to serve our country just out of high school. The 9/11 terrorist attack and tragedy sparked interest in two of men, Sergeant Rodrigo stated, “my mother was a stockbroker when 9/11 happened…it was when she came home, covered in ashes and dust, is when I decided I wanted to be in the military”. Regardless of their reason for joining, all four men had the same dream and desire: to serve and protect their country.
While the veterans talked about the good, the bad and the ugly while serving, they discussed what has proven to be challenging for them individually after joining. All four men agreed that staying motivated and being disciplined was a difficult task. One thing I believe anyone would agree on is being separated from their family proved the biggest challenge. “I had signed up for 3 years,” stated Sergeant Keller. “But three years turned into four and a half. Being away from my family for the fourth Christmas in a row was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with”.
The veterans expressed how fortunate they felt for still being here, especially because they were able to bring their team home as well. Many of their proudest moments were bringing their men home and alive to be with their families. Sargent Jake Rodrigo was one of the veterans who said his proudest moment was when he came back from Iraq and when he got off the plane and saw all of his men lined up. He said,” I brought them home alive!” Sergeant Keller believed that his proudest moment was when he found the man who was selling mentally ill patients as suicide bombers. Sergeant Keller and his team took that man and his terrorist group down.
While being in the military is one of the most serious jobs, all of the veterans remembered a special moment which makes them crack a smile to this day. One of the funniest stories was told by Jon Keller. His team was training with the Afghan army and they called everyone in to take a group picture. It was during the winter so there was snow all over the ground, his plan was to have a snowball fight with them. Yet, living in Afghanistan, he said they are used to the snow so Keller’s team was not victorious after the snowball fight-but everyone had a good laugh over the exchange.
Jake Rodrigo reflected on a time when his sergeant gave them the wrong coordinates. This resulted in Rodrigo and his team walking in the total opposite direction and getting stuck in the desert. His team had a good laugh about their sergeant being wrong.
Given the opportunity to interact with veterans and active soldiers one on one, Shore students could not have been more thankful and honored to be in the presence of such brave individuals.