Last Thursday, students from Minnie Howard Ninth Grade Center came to the Rocky Versace Memorial to express their gratitude to the world’s veterans. This is the third year that Elissa Webster’s English as a Second Language students have participated in the Veterans Day ceremony.
“Just after I moved to this area, I went to a convention in Washington and decided that I wanted to do something with my students to recognize the contributions of veterans,” Webster said. “I received many scholarships to attend college from a variety of veterans’ groups. I got to know people from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and other organizations who thanked me for doing so well in college. I realized that I should be doing something to thank them instead. It was because of their influence that I became an ESL teacher and I am glad that my students can participate in this type of tribute each year.”
Webster’s students made red, white and blue flowers to place at the base of the Rocky Versace Memorial and read tributes to veterans. The memorial was dedicated to Cpt. Humbert R. Versace, U.S. Army, on Veterans Day in 2000. Versace grew up in Alexandria, attended West Point and was killed in Vietnam while a prisoner of war. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on July 8, 2002.
The students represented 16 different countries. Four of the students have fathers in foreign militaries, three of whom were able to participate in last week’s ceremony. The students presented wreaths to these three men in the colors of the flags they serve — two for Argentina and one for Jordan.
“For me, this was the most special moment in the ceremony as it celebrated the true meaning of Armistice Day, a day of peace,” Webster said. “Too often, people hear the word soldier or veteran and they immediately think of war and fighting instead of peacekeeping and freedom. World peace can only be realized when countries work together, and it was nice to have this global emphasis in our event.”
NINETEEN STUDENTS READ messages to veterans. “Now let us pause for a moment of silence as we remember the many sacrifices made by our soldiers for the freedom that we enjoy every day, especially the soldiers who are prisoners of war/missing in action. We hope that one day we can welcome them home,” said Daniela Arcos of Chile.
“We don’t like war, but we know that sometimes we have to go to war so that this country is a safe place to live. Thank you for bringing freedom to everyone,” said Laura Gutierrez, of El Salvador.
“We know that many soldiers don’t want to fight or kill other people, but there is no choice. You do your job until the war is over even though you are scared,” said Abukar Ante, of Somalia.
“Thank you for giving us a country with good economics, democracy, education for all children, and equality for all,” Henry Ramirez, of Guatemala.
“If you weren’t there for your country then there would not be peace in the world. You are very brave because you risk your life when it is dangerous,” said Hamza Hadani, of Morocco.
“Thank you because we learned to appreciate what soldiers do for us. We are happy because you work hard for us. Thank you for everything. We love veterans,” said Senia Guevara, El Salvador.
“We say thank you on Veterans Day because we know you are working hard all of the time because my father is a soldier too. Thank you so much for defending and protecting this country and all of us,” said Francisco Calderon, of Argentina.
In addition to the students, there were three other speakers: Staff Sgt. Joseph Bowser; Lt. Antonio Then and Cpt. Stan Hudson. The ceremony also included JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School, who presented the colors and read the names of Alexandrians engraved on the Rocky Versace Memorial. The Minnie Howard band played a patriotic medley and concluded the ceremony with Taps.