LEE — The St. Mary's School staff and student body stood at attention as veterans William Hall and William Basinait hoisted the American flag.
Once it was raised, the veterans who gathered at the elementary school's front entrance saluted as part of a brief, solemn ceremony to honor those men and women who successfully defended the country.
"We really enjoy doing this program. The veterans have a good time," said Cmdr. James Curtin of the Lee VFW Post 893.
St. Mary's has a long history of honoring veterans on or close to Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
Typically, several children read award-winning essays from the VFW's essay contest, sing patriotic songs and get to mingle with the veterans afterward. In the year of COVID 19, that more elaborate program was out, instead replaced with a "short, but sweet ceremony," as Principal Jennifer Masten called it.
Everyone wore masks, and community members kept their distance from the children and staff. The school wasn't going to let a pandemic mess with its annual recognition of the veterans' military service — many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.
"We are proud of our ceremony," Masten said. "It's important for us to personally thank our veterans."
Eighth grader Vanessa Bartini wrote the first-prize essay, answering the question, "What does patriotism mean to you?"
"Standing up for what you believe in," Vanessa explained to a reporter.
For the other two finalists, patriotism is "devotion to our country," said seventh grader Gianna Beacco. Her classmate, Sophie Alsmaan, wrote about how diversity defines America. "We are all different people that God made for the same purpose," she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered other traditional Veterans Day events.
On Wednesday, Pittsfield will forgo its annual parade, holding only a ceremony at 10 a.m. in Veterans Memorial Park on South Street. COVID-19 protocols will limit attendance, and those gathered must practice social distancing and wear masks at all times.