"Anchors Aweigh" the anthem of the U.S. Navy, is performed by St. Jude second graders and pre-k students. (Emily Benson photos)
"Anchors Aweigh" the anthem of the U.S. Navy, is performed by St. Jude second graders and pre-k students. (Emily Benson photos)

A line of small, American flags lined the walkway up toward St. Jude the Apostle School in Wynantskill. Through the doors, you could hear the sounds of children singing (in that wholesome, off-key way) just inside the gymnasium. They sported similar hand-held Army flags that they waved side to side as they sang on the gym’s stage. 


It was all part of St. Jude’s first Veterans Day Celebration. Held on Thursday, Nov. 10, the celebration honored all veterans who have served, and offered a day of praise for any local veterans in honor of Veterans Day (Nov. 11).


Kristine Hoffay, principal at St. Jude, always wanted to host a Veterans Day event. This year, with COVID restrictions lifted and strong momentum for in-person gatherings flowing, the faculty got the event off the ground.


“My father was in the reserve and we have many faculty members here whose husbands were in the military and who traveled the world in the military,” Hoffay said.


The ceremony kicked off with the Presentation of the Colors by the La Salle Institute's Cadet Color Guard followed by performances from students in pre-K through Grade 5. Classes were paired up and assigned an anthem from five of the six branches of the military to sing. In total, the classes sang the “The Marines’ Hymn,” “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” (Army), “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy), “Wild Blue Yonder” (Air Force), and “Semper Paratus” (Coast Guard). 


Audience members from each military branch were invited to stand during their anthem’s song. Many donned hats displaying their branch’s service, while other attendees waved their hands along to the beat of the song’s theme. 


Charles Hannan, a custodian for St. Jude the Apostle School, wore his dark blue Navy cap from where he served in 1968-74. Hannan said it was great to see the kids taking pride in the community of veterans.

“It’s wonderful to see this because after Vietnam nothing was really done for (veterans),” he said. “Now they’re starting to say more.”


The day ended with a video message from Lt. Col. Matt Fechter of the United States Space Force. Fechter is an old friend of St. Jude’s kindergarten teacher, Ingrid Bender, and her husband, Christopher, who is now a retired war veteran. 


The Benders became friends with Colonel Fechter and his wife while the two families were stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The families attended Mass together, and Bender and Fechter’s wife were a part of the Military Council of Catholic Women (MCCW). 


“It was very important for me to share our awareness of our military,” Bender said. “Not living on or by a military base there seems to be that disconnect, and I know veterans are with us and among us, so I was just so excited.”


After the show families were invited to view the “Honor Wall” display in the back of the auditorium, which showcased student interviews with veterans. Photos were sent in by the veterans to display alongside their interviews, some showing shots of them in their uniforms or at home with their loved ones. 


“This was near and dear to my heart,” Bender added. “To share with children that connection to the men and women that serve and that they are aware of that.”