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Holiday school honors vets with carnations, songs

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Published:   |   Updated: November 12, 2013 at 03:30 PM

HOLIDAY — Rick Cicero, a double amputee on the right side of his body, talked to students at Gulfside Elementary School about the realities of freedom at their 2013 Veterans Day Celebration on Friday.

“You aren’t afraid to step outside your front door, are you guys?” Cicero asked the classes gathered outside for the ceremony. They answered with a resounding “No!”

“That’s because we step outside the line and go looking for the bad guys.”

Cicero served in the Gulf War and in Afghanistan, first as a sergeant in the Army and later a military contractor. In Afghanistan in 2010 he stepped on an improvised explosive device, which detonated and took his right arm and leg.

Cicero showed off his prosthetics to the crowd.

“Everything I’ve ever done in my military life has been for you,” Cicero said. “You are our future. We serve for you and your children and someday their children.”

This is the school’s 15th Veterans Day Celebration, started by school counselor Monica Capabianco to honor those who have served in all branches of the United States Military. The ceremony began off with an introduction by Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, who emphasized that veterans are the reason U.S. citizens are free to vote for their representatives in government.

Afterward, members of the VFW Holiday Post 1067 and other local veterans organized were asked to come up and receive a white carnation stained with blue and red dye while the audience thanked them individually. Then students handed carnations to family members and school employees who had served in the military.

In between each round of announcements, Lisa O’Keefe, the school’s music teacher, led chorus students into patriotic songs like “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”

“We try to teach patriotism and American citizenship at this school,” Capabianco said. “It’s important to teach our children to thank and honor our veterans.”

After the first celebration at the school 15 years ago, a custodian who worked there who lost his leg while serving in the military came up and thanked Capabianco, saying that it was the first time he’d been thanked or honored since coming back to the states.

“That’s when it really struck me that this was important,” Capabianco said.

After the last round of veteran names were called, O’Keefe cranked up the music and the chorus sang Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America.” The small crowd joined in, clapping their hands and pumping their fists in the air, before heading back to their classrooms for a few more hours of instruction before they were released for their three-day weekend. Monday, Nov. 11, the official Veterans Day, is a designated school holiday.

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