Students at Monterrey Elementary School cheer as members of the Roswell Fire Department make an appearance Friday during a balloon release commemorating 9/11. Below, Michael Murphy of the Patriot Guard Riders rallies bikers to saddle up for a parade down Main Street. (Mark Wilson Photos)
Chants of “U-S-A,” could be heard for blocks around Monterrey Elementary School Friday morning as students swarmed the parking lot waiting to honor Vietnam veterans and members of the Roswell Fire Department.
As the veterans entered the lot on motorcycles, followed by a Station No. 5 fire truck, chants grew even louder while children simultaneously released red, white and blue balloons into the air.
Dan Coleman, president of the Parent Advisory Committee for the school, said the event had a two-fold value.
“First, heroes know that we appreciate them and that we have not forgotten them,” he said. “Second, it lets the kids know what a hero is. It teaches them pride.”
Coleman also noted the benefits of having both the kids and the heroes interact with each another in person.
Cynthia Gustamantes, a fourth grade teacher at the school, helped plan the event.
“We wanted to teach the kids not only about this event in American history but we wanted to remind them of what it means to be an American,” she said.
The majority of the students were born after 9/11, but Gustamantes emphasized the importance of teaching them about the event.
“The little ones learn more about being patriotic, but our third, fourth and fifth-graders have done whole units on it. We really talked about how that event changed American history. Also we let them know that this is a nation who unites — we don’t give in to terrorism. And we want them to be proud of their heritage, so Monterrey’s theme for this year is a patriotic one.”
Gustamantes noted a conversation she had with one of the veterans who told her the event helped heal the hurt of what happened in Vietnam.
“It was touching to me because so many of the boys, especially, were just telling (the veterans) thank you so much, and we appreciate you. And one little girl told them thank you for preserving the American dream. These kinds of events make them more aware. … We will not forget, but if we haven’t taught them what it is, they don’t know what it is they’re not forgetting.”