Surrounded by a standing-room only crowd of parents, fourth- and fifth-graders escorted local veterans into the cafeteria at Hindley Elementary School for a Veterans Day Celebration on Friday, Nov. 8.

Following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, led by state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-27, an Air Force veteran, Hindley Principal Rita Ferri, whose husband is also a veteran, told the audience that ceremonies that celebrate the country's veterans help the children.

"Children have to know history to plan for a better future," Ferri said.

More than 30 veterans took the stage. All of the veterans had some sort of a connection to Darien, as most were relatives of the students.

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"America's veterans embody the ideals upon which our country was founded," Leone said. "Events such as the one today give young people the opportunity to show these heroes just how much we deeply appreciate the many sacrifices they have made and thank them for their dedicated and loyal service."

Looking back on his military career, Leone said the time he spent in uniform was a defining moment in his life as he "went in as a young person and came out as a fully grown adult."

The ceremony was part of "Take a Veteran to School" day, which is a national initiative by the History Channel that connects veterans with communities across the nation and is focused on helping students appreciate the services veterans provided to the country. The event was sponsored by Cablevision Power to Learn.

As part of the event, Michael Choweniec, the Cablevision area director of government affairs, presented Phil Kraft, commander of Darien's Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, with a $2,500 donation.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions of the veterans.

Toby Sylvester asked if they volunteered for the service or were drafted. Acting as a moderator, Kraft asked those who had been drafted to raise their hands; only three of the 33 did. Kraft followed up by asking how many had lied about their age when they volunteered because they were too young; one raised his hand.

The veterans were also asked how their perspective on life has changed since serving in the military.

Paige Richard Wolfe, a Navy veteran, said he truly learned his personal limits and that the term "wingman" really means something in the service. Wingmen were pilots who supported another flyer in potentially dangerous environments.

Craig Shorr, of the Navy, said in his 23 years of service he learned how lucky he was to live in a free country.

Following the event, Kraft extended his appreciation to the veterans and that he is grateful that "entire generations are raised only knowing one way to treat veterans -- with respect."

"This is an education that does not come out of textbooks," Ferri said at the conclusion of the ceremony.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews