Jeremy Johnston gets emotional easily.
It’s understandable; Johnston has been through a lot in the last year.
Johnston, a member of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, just returned from Iraq on Nov. 7. He just completed his second tour of duty in Iraq; he also served a tour in Afghanistan. His unit was ambushed on May 12 of this year and two of his fellow soldiers were kidnapped; they’re still missing.
But it’s the appreciation of others that really gets him; he received a standing ovation at St. Rose of Lima School’s Veterans Day celebration last Friday, and it brought him to tears.
“It’s very special for me,” Johnston said. “To see them recognize me like that and to know they appreciate the sacrifices my family and I have made, it’s very emotional.”
Johnston, of Clay, was among nearly 35 veterans and current servicemen recognized at St. Rose of Lima School. The event invited veterans from all branches of service and all areas of Central New York to attend in uniform and be recognized by the students of the Catholic school, which has grades pre-kindergarten through sixth. Students sang songs, recited poems and thanked the veterans. Several students dressed in the uniforms of each branch of the armed services, and the chorus performed the official song of each branch.
The event was an opportunity for kids to learn about veterans, as well as for the veterans to get together and be recognized.
“This is the only time kids will ever learn about veterans,” said Ed Zaluski, himself a World War II vet. Zaluski has organized the event for the last several years. “It’s education for the students, and it gets the vets together. It’s for the veterans as much as the students.”
Zaluski said the event is especially important for older veterans as the country loses more and more men and women who served in WWII.
“It fills the gap of grandfathers who aren’t around anymore,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun for us, and it gives parents and children a sense of what we went through.”
Also in attendance for the event were Clay Town Councilor Joseph Bick and Clay Town Justice-Elect Brian Lauri, both of whom have children who attend the school.
“It’s good to see that the kids care,” Bick said. “It means a lot to have the adults and the kids make sure the vets are recognized.”
Bick’s wife Jenny, who helped to coordinate the celebration, agreed.
“The best way to honor our veterans is to educate our children on their sacrifices,” she said.
Sacrifice is something Johnston is very familiar with; since enlisting in the Army in 1994, he’s spent a lot of time away from his wife, Vera, and their three children, including a daughter in sixth grade at St. Rose.
“This will be only the second Christmas we’ve spent together in 12 years of marriage,” Vera Johnston said. “We’ve never spent an anniversary together.”
“She’s the strong one,” Johnston said of his wife. “She’s the one who’s had to keep it together while I’m gone. But I’m home for a while now, so she won’t have to do it alone anymore.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.