The student and faculty at Whitehall Elementary School paid tribute last Thursday to one of the community’s fallen heroes during its annual Memorial Day Ceremony.
More than a hundred parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and a dozen Legionnaires looked on as students recited poems, sang songs and received awards. But the most touching moment was reserved for the ceremonial flag-raising.
After lowering the school’s flag for the final time, Boy Scouts Jason Ashline and John Hollister were handed Billy Aiken’s burial flag, which with the assistance of their fellow scouts, was hoisted up the flag pole to fly over the school grounds Aiken attended as a young child.
“That breeze you felt as the flag was raised, that was Billy waving hello,” Jim Lafayette said.
Aiken, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, was killed in action in Vietnam on Nov. 13, 1970. He was 20 years old and the only resident of Whitehall killed during the Vietnam War.
His mother, Katherine, who is recognized each year during the community’s Memorial Day ceremonies was in attendance and looked on as the flag was raised.
Joe Capron, a veteran of the Vietnam War and the man responsible for starting the ceremony more than four decades was also in attendance.
“It’s great to see the tradition kept alive. It’s very heartwarming and this year was pretty emotional with Billy’s flag,” Capron said.
Capron, a former teacher at the school, started the ceremony in 1972 and the event has grown into one of the largest school functions of the year.
“It just keeps building. I’m very proud of Dave St. Germain for picking up the ball and continuing this,” he said.
During the ceremony, Lafayette took a few moments to explain the significance of the P.O.W./M.I.A. flag.
“When you see that flag, you think of the thousands of soldiers, Marines, and airmen whose parents don’t know where they are,” he said.
Following the remarks, administrators presented awards to select students in each grade who have displayed traits of positive citizenship.
Teachers and students spent weeks preparing for the event.
Classroom windows were decorated with drawings of American flags and many of the students were dressed in red, white, and blue.
Each grade also prepared a song or poems such as the “Flag Song” and “Two Brothers.” A few fifth-grade students even portrayed the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima, huddling together as they lifted a “flag” into place.
“The kids are great and the teachers do an excellent job,” said Capron. “I still get the chills all these years later.”