AYER -- Page Hilltop School Principal Fred Deppe considers Memorial Day to be one of the nation's most memorable holidays.
"It is our opportunity to recognize, remember and applaud our true American heroes -- all of the men and women who have served our country." He continued, "In Ayer, this tradition of honoring the memory of all military personnel has deep roots, founded in the heritage of neighboring Fort Devens."
In holding with this tradition, the Page Hilltop community came together on Friday, May 24, to honor the country's military. Fifth-graders Emily Gravelle and Jeffrey Pham emceed the program and started out by calling in the "color guard," which consisted of a handful of Page Hilltop students who stood before the student body as fourth-grader Olivia Oestreicher sang the national anthem and Joshua Morgan led the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence.
Deppe welcomed the guests in attendance. "It means a lot to our community to have you all here sharing in this very sacred day," said Deppe.
Page Hilltop student Sierra Simmons read a history of Memorial Day before the first-graders, accompanied on guitar by first-grade teacher Beth Lewis, sang "Wave On, Old Glory, Wave On." A slide show of historical pictures of the American flag over the years showed behind the singers. When the six- and seven-year-olds finished, she shared a reflective piece about her thoughts on Memorial Day. Lewis's heartfelt piece evoked many emotions as she asked the audience to keep her son in their prayers as he heads to the Middle East this summer with the U.S. Navy.
The third-graders took to the risers and belted out a musical medley of patriotic songs accompanied by Lewis on her guitar and directed by Page Hilltop music teacher Katie Swenson.
Gared Taylor took a few moments to present a reading to educate the audience on the history and significance of Arlington National Cemetery, after which representatives of the Panther Leadership Team read a list of names of some noteworthy people buried at that cemetery.
"This Land is Your Land" was the next musical selection, and it was animatedly performed by the school's kindergarten class.
After the youngest members of the audience returned to their seats, state Reps. Sheila Harrington and Jen Benson took to the stage. "I am proud and honored to be here on behalf of the state," Harrington said. "It is so important to come together in America on this day to let our military know how much their service and sacrifices mean to us."
Benson added a sentiment she has often expressed to her own children. "Real heroes don't wear capes, they wear dogtags."
After Benson acknowledged all of the servicemen and women who were present at the Memorial Day program, the whole audience sang "Thankful for the USA" before listening to MacKenzie Taylor read an explanation of the history of the playing of taps. Ayer Shirley Regional High School's Tyler Landry played taps.
At the conclusion of the program, the veterans and current service members were invited to stay for lunch, coordinated by Elaine Gailey of the Devens Grill.