Ocean Acres School Honors Heroes in Support Our Troops Celebration

Jun 07, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy

Peter Desvousges was a young man while in France during World War II, and to hear him tell the story of his service in the U.S. Army takes more than a few minutes. But in Manahawkin on May 25, the 92-year-old veteran was brief and to the point when describing the tribute program delivered by the Ocean Acres School students as part of Support Our Troops Day.

“It was beautiful,” said Desvousges, attending for the first time. “The kids were great. I had tears in my eyes.”

For a man who had served across the world in various ways – by the way, he “never saw fire against the Germans because as soon as I was sent out the war ended” – and the 150 veterans and their families in attendance, the 15th annual Support Our Troops program was a reminder of how much their service is appreciated by many and, with Memorial Day just four days later, what the sacrifices of the men and women who have been lost to military conflict have meant to our nation.

After a casual gathering prior to the program, the veterans and their families were paraded into the Ocean Acres gymnasium, where some 600-plus students, teachers and faculty members were gathered to applaud and cheer them as they entered. Following the presentation of the American flag by the Southern Regional High School Junior ROTC, the flag salute and the playing of “Taps” by bugler Gerry DiSimone, Ocean Acres Principal Susan D’Alessandro welcomed the crowd. Superintendent George Chidiac also gave some remarks, before he turned over the podium to New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington.

“Thank you for all you’ve done for us,” said Harrington, whose grandfather was an Army chaplain during World War II. “Today, we remember and honor your dedication.”

From there, the first- and second-graders of the school further honored the veterans in attendance and paid tribute to those lost through various songs – including Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” and Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” – and a poem, “Every Day, We Honor.” As groups of students left and took the stage to perform, D’Alessandro provided educational facts and figures regarding Memorial Day. Several moments during the program evoked tears from throughout the gym.

Afterwards, the honored guests were treated to a colossal buffet lunch in the cafeteria.

First-grade teacher Lori Kundrat, whose father, Joseph DeAngelis, served with the Army in Korea and was in attendance, not only was pleased with the students’ performances but with the fantastic turnout.

“When we first started doing this in 2002, I wanted it to be a real-life history lesson for our students,” said Kundrat, who garnered inspiration from her father when developing the idea for Support Our Troops. “I wanted them to know that not all superheroes wear capes and that all our veterans are awesome. We had 35 veterans in attendance the first year. Today, we had 150. It’s a special day here, and everybody here at the Ocean Acres School plays a part in it.”

Robert “Dino” Ryan, who served in the Navy during military operations in Vietnam and now serves as the service coordinator for American Legion Post 517, is the man Kundrat calls in April to start the process of reaching out to local veterans who can attend the special event – something he’s been doing since its inception.

“When I first talked to Lori about it, I asked, ‘What do you need me to do?’ and it just stuck with me,” said Ryan, who lives nearby in the Ocean Acres section of Manahawkin. “It’s great for the veterans to be recognized. They’re patriots, you know. What this school does to honor them is terrific.”

Harrington later said she was blown away by what she witnessed.

“I felt a real sense of community and honor,” she said. “We should thank our veterans every day and remember all they’ve done for our freedom in this country. What I saw today was a tremendous gift to the children and the veterans, and there aren’t any words adequate enough to describe what I felt as I watched all that took place in that gym.”

— David Biggy


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