BRADENTON -- Not one veteran’s hand moved as “The Star-spangled Banner” played at Freedom Elementary School on Thursday morning during the annual “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony honoring veterans, first responders and law enforcement officers.
Tears were shed. Spectators gallantly placed hands across hearts. And eyes were focused on the glory of the red, white and blue flag being lifted above the heads of elementary schoolers.
Veterans’ hands only moved when the American flag was positioned at the top of the pole. Slowly they dropped. It was just one illustration of how the annual ceremony had captured the attention and hearts of those being honored.
“We’re here to thank all our heroes,” Freedom Principal Jim Mennes said. “I saw a lot of smiling veterans.”
The ceremony started in Freedom Elementary’s cafeteria. A hearty student welcome was extended to visitors, families and those being honored for the day. Besides veterans, school officials also extended appreciation to firefighters, first responders and law enforcement officers -- those who serve others sometimes with little thanks.
Assistant Principal Laura Campbell said students need to take part in such ceremonies to know the importance of honoring those who provide for their country and to show appreciation for their freedom.
Students wore T-shirts with this year’s “Freedom Gives Us Wings” theme and sang anthems for all the military branches as well as “America the Beautiful,” and “Everyday Heroes” by Brian Carroll about first responders and others who serve.
“I had never heard that song before,” a Sarasota police officer said as tears filled his eyes. He wore a blue T-shirt honoring the two Tampa police officers killed in the line of duty in June 2010 -- David Curtis and Jeff Kocab.
State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Parrish, served as guest speaker for the event.
“We cannot rightly celebrate the joys of our freedom without remembering the sacrifices,” Steube said. “To all of our veterans we have a simple heartfelt message -- thank you.”
He also issued a challenge to students. “I challenge you, Freedom Elementary. Continue to fight for freedom,” Steube said.
Second-grader Daniel Kaczmarek asked his great-great-uncles to attend the ceremony. The two men were visiting Manatee County to attend their niece’s wedding.
“It floored me,” Army veteran Fred Norton said regarding the child’s invitation. Then he answered with a hearty, “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
Daniel’s other uncle, Army veteran Charles Pete was choked up just hearing the different anthems students sang.
“Veterans Day is always important to me,” he said. “To see a young relative be interested in this kind of thing is inspiring to me. Teaching history and learning history is important. We learn by our mistakes.”
The service ended with a ringing of the liberty bell that sits at the front of the school by members of the kindergarten class.