BY LAUREN ESCHENBRENNER, MARA LLOYD, and KAYLEY PASKO
On November 8, 2019, Canton High School celebrated Veteran’s Day with a school-wide assembly, which included music, speeches, a video, and special guests.
Canton High School’s Social Studies teacher, Kerry Hartley, and Social Studies Department Chair, Nora Mocarski, arranged the speeches and order of the assembly. They also coordinated the cordial greeting and entrance for the veterans and their families.
The program started out with Mocarski welcoming everyone to the Canton High School Veterans Day program. During her welcoming speech, Mocarski explained that the focus of this year’s program would be different than in year’s past.
Mocarski also discussed the importance of the approaching anniversary that will take place this year: the 100 year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. She acknowledged the ongoing women’s suffrage movement which allowed women the most fundamental right of a democracy.
The highlight of the event, however, was the attendance of 100-year-old World War Ⅱ veteran and Holocaust liberator Morton Katz, who, to this day, practices law in our neighboring town, Avon, CT.
Katz served in the Army intelligence and civil affairs after graduating from Iowa State College in 1940 with a degree in Organic Chemistry. He served in the 82nd Airborne in World War II, seeing action in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. After his discharge, Katz attended law school at the University of Connecticut. Following a long legal career in the Hartford area, Katz became a public defender in 1997. In order to get him to stop practicing law, Katz claims they’ll have to carry him out of the courtroom.
He was interviewed by CHS students Lauraine Nicholls and James Carlson on the stage during the ceremony.
Katz served in World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he reported to Fort Benning in Georgia, then served in Italy, France, Germany in 1942.
In 1944, his platoon helped liberate the Wobbelin Concentration Camp in Ludwigslust. Katz said the concentration camps were “disgusting and terrible.” He talked more about his involvement in this liberation, and said the monstrosities of human treatment at the camp was horrid.
Despite witnessing the horrors of war, Katz has a positive outlook, and was keen to share a life lesson with students. “Pay it back,” he said, especially if it’s kindness. Katz’s uncle gave him that advice as a teenager and it’s stuck with him ever since. Katz hopes that his uncle’s words will inspire students to do the same.
After the live interview was conducted with Katz on the stage, he received a standing ovation from everyone in the auditorium.
One of the things that Canton High School did to prepare for the program was to assign the entire sophomore class the task of writing 100 letters of thanks and congratulations to Katz (one for every year he’s been alive). The school’s Tech Ed teacher, Brandon Richard, took on the construction of a wooden gift box for letters, which was presented to Katz.
Additionally, there was a lot of student participation in the program. About 33 band students played the song “Service Veterans Salute” as the veterans were escorted into the auditorium. Canton High School sophomore Braeden Humphrey led the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of silence for those who have served. Students stayed standing for the Canton High School Chorus’ version of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Canton High School sophomore Mara Lloyd thanked everyone who helped out organizing the program as well as all the veterans who were able to take time out of their day to participate in this program.
After the assembly, individual veterans went to their assigned classes to talk to the students on a smaller scale about their service and answer any questions they had. This part of the program was designed to be an educational experience so that both students and service members would benefit from the day’s events.
In addition to the program at Canton High School, veterans were celebrated at the other schools in the district.
At Canton Middle School, the day began with Student Council members interviewing over 20 veterans to learn about their service. The interviews were followed by a schoolwide program in the auditorium, during which students expressed gratitude for the veterans’ military service with a video and poetry reading. The featured guest, David Rodriguez, an officer in the Canton Police Department, a drill sergeant and active member of the National Guard, and father of a CMS 8th grader, shared stories of his service.
At Canton Intermediate School, the ceremony focused on all veterans and was family oriented in some ways. “Most veterans invited are members of a CIS student’s family. We had 47 veterans – all but three have a family member (child, niece, grandchild, nephew) who attends CIS, ” CIS principal, Nancy Larson, said. As veterans entered, the song “Beyond the Wind” was being performed by the CIS wind ensemble.
The student participation was outstanding, including band and chorus students, and students who read compositions. Once the program was over, “Veterans then broke up into three groups to have conversations with each grade level…for 20-30 minutes,” Larson said.
At Cherry Brook Primary School, the ceremony was somewhat similar.“On Nov. 11, Cherry Brook Primary School welcomed 52 veterans to our school. Many veterans visited classrooms to speak about their service and experiences in the armed forces. Then, the whole school gathered in the gymnasium to honor the veterans with poems, songs and cheers. It was a patriotic, enthusiastic salute to our veterans,” CBPS Principal, Andrew Robbin said.
These district wide programs have become a tradition to honor and thank our local troops for everything they’ve done, and raise student awareness of patriotic service.