Photo Gallery | Veterans Day at Lee Elementary
LEE — Twenty-six veterans marched into the Lee Elementary School gymnasium Tuesday accompanied by their children, grandchildren and/or great grandchildren to be honored for their service and sacrifice to keep the youngsters free — many before they were born.
The 23 men and three women, spanning several generations dating back to World War II, listened intently during the school's annual Veterans Day ceremony; saluted in patriotic songs and in speech.
"[We] should be thankful for the life we have," said third-grader Mia Puleri. "We thank you for our freedom."
At a reception after the ceremony, Army Reserves veteran (1969-75) Richard Brittain, with grandson David by his side, said such tributes are important for today's youth.
"I think the [American] people recognize what [veterans] did and the sacrifices they made," said the retired banker. "This [event] was especially good to see the kids."
School Principal Kate Retzel introduced each veteran to the student assembly and school staff. She explained their relationship to the K-6 children in attendance, what branch of the military they represent and when they served.
Marine Staff Sgt. Alan Cummings spoke, not of himself, but those who served before him and still serve today.
"I want to thank all my fellow veterans," he said. "I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for you."
Retzel also read the names of the nearly 25 deceased veterans of students and staff, paying special tribute to Henry T. Zukowski.
Affectionately known as "Mr. Z," Zukowski died Oct. 7 at the age of 90, having been a Marine during World War II and the Korean War. He later spent 52 years in the Lee Public Schools as a high school teacher, coach, vice principal, principal and superintendent.
"You could say he worked his way up the ranks," said Janet Warner, physical education teacher at Lee Elementary.
Warner first knew Zukowski in his days as high school vice principal and disciplinarian — a job best suited for a retired Marine.
"He made us safe and gave our school structure," she said.
Zukowski's widow, Joan, his son Donald and his two daughters were in attendance and appreciated the tribute and kind words about their husband, father and grandfather.
Joan Zukowski says a day doesn't go by that she doesn't hear a new "Mr. Z" story.
"I've learned more about my husband in the last month than I did the last 56 years of marriage — almost all of it good," she said with a smile.