By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — If yesterday morning's Veterans Day observance at Thomson School could be summed up in just one word, it would be "Thanks."
Veterans of varying ages attended what has become a tradition at Thomson. Several of them are the parents or grandparents of students at the school. When they were asked to stand, they received enthusiastic applause from the young people seated on the floor of the gymnasium.
The tribute had special significance for Dan Connolly, who served in the Army from 1984 to 1988. His daughter, fifth-grader Hannah Connolly, played "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the piano.
Her classmates, Bailey Lawson and Jhaniya Carrillo, then sang the national anthem.
"It brought tears to my eyes," said Connolly, who served in the 7th Infantry Division.
Joining the Army, he said, was "the best thing I ever did in my life." His military service taught him important life skills and introduced him to soldiers of many different backgrounds, he said.
While Connolly enlisted, Robert Smith was drafted into the Army – a practice that the United States ended 40 years ago, as the Vietnam War was winding down. Smith did not serve in combat, but he was on the front line of the Cold War, assigned to West Germany.
Tens of thousands of Soviet troops, who inspired fear among the people of Western Europe as well as Americans, were stationed just across the border in what used to be East Germany. Smith was a construction engineer.
"The presentation was very good," he said of the observance. Smith is the grandfather of two Thomson students: Katelyn Finn, a third-grader, and Jonathan Finn, a fifth-grader.
Robert Beaudoin, whose children are now adults but attended Thomson School, completed two tours in Vietnam while in the Navy. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga.
"The kids did a great job," he said.
Staff Sgt. Sean Wood, an Air Force recruiter, is in his ninth year of service. Before being assigned to his current duties, he was a vehicle maintainer and completed three tours in Iraq.
Originally from New York, Wood said some people told him residents of the Northeast do not have as much enthusiasm for military service as those in other parts of the country.
That is not an accurate picture, he said. He's based at the Armed Services Recruiting Center, 160 Winthrop Ave., Lawrence, and the area has contributed many high-level recruits, he said.
Courtney Dalke, a fifth-grader, read her essay, which won first place in a recent contest at the school. She compared RAISE values – respect, achievement, inclusion, service, empathy – with the qualities that veterans have displayed.
The North Andover schools encourage all students, teachers and other staffers and parents to incorporate those characteristics into their lives.
Seventeen members of the North Andover High School band, directed by Ana Sangermano, a junior, provided music for the occasion. When the students sang the songs of the armed forces, Devam Dhawan, an NAHS sophomore, accompanied them on a set of snare drums.
Thomson School is named in honor of Pvt. Albert Thomson, the first North Andover resident to be killed in World War I. Assistant Superintendent Gregg Gilligan, master of ceremonies for the observance, noted that Thomson was three months shy of his 17th birthday when he was killed in France in 1918.