TREMONT — Rich Viera served 33 years in the United States Coast Guard, including a tour in Vietnam, but that experience was not enough to combat his nerves on Friday before speaking in front of elementary school students.
“I always spoke at the classrooms,” he said about the annual commemoration event at the Tremont Consolidated School.
“Quite a few years I’ve been coming here. The principal talked me into [giving a speech] and I’m nervous as can be.”
Viera and several veterans from the community joined the students for lunch and then were honored at a ceremony following recess. After teachers and members of the Parent Teacher Organization quickly transformed the community room from a cafeteria into an assembly setting, the middle school band played “Military Medley,” which features the songs of the five branches of the armed forces: “Semper Paratus” for the Coast Guard, “The Wild Blue Yonder” for the Air Force, “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy, the Marine’s Hymn for the Marine Corps and “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” for the Army.
Prior to Viera’s speech, Principal Jandrea True spoke, thanking the veterans for their service and coming to the school to help the students understand why they were to have Monday off.
“Your selflessness, your resiliency, your courage, your pride make you great role models for our students,” she said to those gathered. She then asked the crowd to stand, pledge their allegiance to the flag and offer a moment of silence to honor those lost in service.
A new tradition was added to the ceremony this year when two fourth-grade students spoke about Peter F. Bickford, a local Civil War veteran. Ed Tech Kathie Pratt, who serves on the Boards of Directors of both the Bass Harbor Memorial Library and the Tremont Historical Society, helped the students with the project.
Viera, who reached the rank of commander in the Coast Guard and originally came to this area in 1962 as a lighthouse keeper for Great Duck Island, spoke about his own service in the military and that of his father who served in World War II.
He also had a helmet from that war with a dent in it where it had stopped a bullet from going through.
Because Viera shared stories about his father, it prompted the young children seated in the front to want to speak about their parents. After one girl told Viera, and the crowd, that her name was Liberty, another told everyone his dad was a fisherman. Several more children shared their parents’ occupations before attention was shifted back to the veterans.
Each veteran stood, introduced themselves and told the gathering how many years of service they had given and in which branch of the armed forces.
One, Michael Fonseca, a member of the Coast Guard with children in the school, told the crowd he is in his nineteenth year of service.
“I was only in for two years, but that was enough for me,” veteran Frank Gray told the crowd, explaining he had served in Japan.
As the ceremony wrapped up in the community room, an older student was asked to demonstrate how to offer the veterans a hand shake of thanks for the younger students to emulate. To end the assembly, each student filed by the line up of nearly a dozen veterans to shake their hands and thank them for their service.
Participating veterans gathered in front of the monument in front of the school for a photo.