For the second straight year, a palpable buzz of excitement surrounded Parkman School Tuesday morning, as hundreds of students, teachers and community members eagerly awaited the arrival of a very special delivery.
Around 9:20 a.m., the buzz turned to cheers, as a tractor trailer truck carrying 5,000 wreaths from Maine to suburban Washington, D.C. came into view on Weymouth Road.
The truck, part of a convoy delivering wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery as part of Wreaths Across America, diverted to the school for a morning assembly program in the jam-packed gymnasium.
Principal Maureen Sampl introduced a number of dignitaries, including state and local elected officials, before the program proceeded with music and letters from the third through fifth grade students.
Wreaths were presented to four area Gold Star families of servicemen killed in action: SPC Angelo Sferrazza of Enfield (July 11, 1966, Vietnam), Gunnery Sgt. Phillip A. Jordan of Enfield (March 23, 2003, Iraq), Cpl. Stephen R. Bixler of Suffield (May 4, 2006, Iraq), and LCpl. Philip A. Johnson of Enfield (Sept. 3, 2006, Iraq).
"It truly never fails to impress and amaze me how this town remembers its veterans, but the biggest surprise of all is when kids this age get it," said Lou Johnson, father of LCpl. Johnson. "When you see all these young faces - enthusiastic, excited, proud of Americans who are no longer here, that allow them to be Americans - words can't even begin to express what an honor and privilege it is to attend this."
Lori Gates, coordinator of Enfield Hooah, was instrumental in getting the ceremony to Parkman for the second time.
"I'm amazed but not surprised, because that's what this town does," Gates said. "We think we're teaching the kids, but the kids are teaching us. They get the message way better than the rest of us get it."
The Parkman students recently visited St. Patrick's King Street Cemetery, where they made grave rubbings of veterans' stones. They then wrote letters to the veteran himself, or the veteran's family, Principal Maureen Sampl said.
"The students here have a seriously deeper understanding of what this whole thing is about," Sampl said. "The trip to the cemetery that we took sort of hit it out of the ballpark as far as them understanding the sacrifice our veterans have made."
Six letters were recited at the assembly, and the letter of fifth-grader Toddishia Murchison was selected to be read at the Wreaths Across America ceremony at St. Patrick's King Street Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 15 at noon.
Her letter reads:
"Dear Anthony J. DeCaro's family,
First, I want to say thank you Anthony for serving for our country. I celebrate him and other veterans every November 11th, as you may know that day as Veterans Day. Also I go to the Veterans Home and play checkers with them. I always lose!!! Your son has made me realize if it wasn't for him and others, our country wouldn't be as peaceful as it is now. I say the pledge every morning and show respect to the flag. Everytime I say the pledge, I don't say it just to say it; I mean what I say. When I went to the Saint Patrick Cemetery, I told Anthony how thankful I was for him trying to make the world more peaceful. I told him that I would be willing to take the risk he took. I love you and GOD BLESS!"
Ten wreaths apiece were purchased by the Enfield Firefighters Local 3912 and the Sons of the American Legion Post 80.