Veterans Day: High school ceremony allows students ‘to pick up the torch’

There are few greater learning experiences for young students than a face-to-face interaction with someone who has served or still is serving the United States military.

That’s why the Trumbull Veterans’ Organization and the town’s Board of Education join together every year to put on the annual Veterans Day celebration for residents at Trumbull High School’s auditorium from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11.

“This is an opportunity for the kids to learn more about our history,” said George Areson, American Legion Post 141 Commander and Korean War veteran.

“In my generation, everybody served; it’s something you grew up with and didn’t think much about,” he added. “But kids today aren’t exposed to it as much, and that’s why ceremonies like these are important.”

It’ll be the 13th year that the veterans and the education board have partnered to put on this ceremony, which has been held at THS every year except two when the school was being renovated.

The first part of the event is an informal, 30-minute question and answer session where the senior class gets to ask a group of 30 or so veterans about their respective experiences. It’s a window into a world they can’t imagine but should know about, Areson believes.

“We all get up on the auditorium and introduce ourselves — our name, where we served, when we served,” he said. “Some of the veterans we get are active duty, and that’s always great to have them be part of it because you can see how strong of a bond we have with younger soldiers who have picked up the torch and have carried it for us.”

“It’s also nice knowing that there are a lot veterans in the audience who have came out to support this program.”

The question and answer period is followed by a formal speaking session that last around an hour.

Police chief, Navy Cross recipient

The keynote speaker at this year’s ceremony will be Robin Montgomery, the chief of police of the Brookfield Police Department.

As a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam, Montgomery was twice wounded in action, and was awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest award for valor in combat. In 2013, he was inducted into the Connecticut Veterans’ Hall of fame.

Areson said that the Trumbull Veterans’ Organization was excited to have Montgomery lead the forum this year. He’s a long-time friends of former First Selectman Ray Baldwin.

“Ray and Robin served in Vietnam together, and Ray asked him to come and speak next week and he was more than pleased to receive that opportunity,” he said.

Following his Marine Corps service, Montgomery spent 26 years as a Special Agent of the FBI where he was involved in crisis management at the national level, and interviewed President Reagan after he was shot in 1981.

From 1994 until his retirement in 1997, he was Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Critical Response Group. Since, he’s served as police chief in Brookfield for the past 15 years.

Special bond

Areson doesn’t need to look further than Baldwin and Montgomery’s friendship for an example of what it means to be a member of America’s armed forces.

“World War II, Korea, Vietnam — almost every single person you grew up with served,” said Areson, who did his tour of Korea from 1954 to 1956. “In our respective eras, everybody served and that created a special bond between us.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, and I’m sure if you asked any veteran they would say they feel the same way,” he added.

And now, the students and residents of Trumbull will get that opportunity — to ask what it was like to serve; what it was like growing up in an era where serving was routine and commonplace; and what they’ve learned since returning back to their homeland.

“This is their chance to pick up the torch and get a sense of what it’s like,” he said. “The school has worked very hard to develop this program and mold it with what the students have learned in the classroom.

“This is an out-of-the-classroom experience that helps continue that learning process.”

Other ceremonies

In addition to the question and answer and the guest speaker, the event will have patriotic music  provided by the school’s chamber singers and the Golden Eagle marching band.

Elsewhere in town, Areson said the elementary and middle school’s host their own, separate ceremonies for students who can’t attend the big presentation at the high school.

“Ray and I will be going to Daniels Farm Elementary School after our visit to the high school, and I may end up at one more elementary school that afternoon,” he said. “But the event at the high school is the official town ceremony and that’s the one everyone in the community should attend if they can.”

Afterwards, there will be a laying of the wreath in front of the war memorial outside of Town Hall at 11 a.m.

“We play the taps and say some words,” Areson said. “It’s very brief, maybe five minutes.”

Of course, without the kids present, that tradition lacks the generational carryover that the high school ceremony has attracted over the years.

“The kids really enjoy it, they’re always engaged during the dialogue and during the speaker,” he said. “They’re always waving to us in the hallways afterwards, and that’s when you feel you’ve done a good job with it.”

For further information, please contact American Legion Post 141 Commander, George Areson at 203-913-1276 or