NATOMA — Multiple generations gathered in the Natoma Elementary School gymnasium Friday as the community honored those who served the country.
It was the eighth year the Natoma American Legion Auxiliary Unit joined with Natoma-Paradise-Waldo USD 399 to present the salute filled with patriotic music and words for Veterans Day.
The theme of the day was “Every Hero has a Story,” and for many in attendance, a big part of that theme was family.
It was her own father’s service in World War II that was part of the inspiration for beginning the event, said Laah Tucker, president of the auxiliary.
But Tucker also is quick to point out the contributions of others in the community of 325, like English teacher Shari Paget, who has administered the local Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen essay contests for 19 years. This year’s winners read their essays during the program.
“There are so many fine citizens that have a heart for veterans,” Tucker said.
For Natoma resident Sheila Hachmeister, the military is a family tradition. Her father was a Marine in WWII and honored his fellow service men and women after returning home.
“He started doing honor guard because there were so many funerals and there wasn’t very many people around to do it,” she said.
He continued that service for 50 years.
“I grew up knowing how to fold the flag,” she said.
She was among the volunteers later setting up luminaries in Plainville’s Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Anderson Memorial Park, and she and her sisters help prepare meals for veterans on Election Day.
The tradition continues in her family, as her sons Jared and Seth each were appointed to military academies.
Jared graduated this year from the U.S. Naval Academy and is in flight training at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., while Seth is a cadet at West Point.
Their photos and memorabilia were among those along a wall of the gym telling the story of veterans back to the Civil War.
Also among the artifacts was a shadow box displaying medals and photos of Harold Dennet of Palco. The 95-year-old served in the 27th Combat Engineers from 1942 to 1946.
He drove himself to the salute, and although he has trouble hearing, said he enjoyed the program.
Afterwards, he shared stories of his service in WWII, which including making an amphibious landing under mortar fire in New Guinea.
Bonnie Wyatt served during the Korean War as a WAVE — the women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve.
She served at West Point as a nurse’s aid and then at a hospital in Germany.
“The only thing I didn’t like was basic training. I went through Fort Lee, Va., in the summertime, and I kept passing out because of the humidity,” she said with a laugh.
She said military service is a good choice for young people still today.
“It’s great for those who graduate from high school and don’t know what they want to do or aren’t ready for college. The service is a good place. It’s a chance for a good education,” she said.
U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Natasha Florian Mondero, who attended Natoma schools, was the event’s featured speaker.
She said her service changed how she views Veterans Day.
“When I was growing up, Veterans Day meant to show gratitude and respect to those who have served,” she said.
“Since putting on the uniform, it means something completely different. It means someone took a stand against America’s enemies so that loved ones back home are safe.
“It means someone is missing weddings, birthdays, graduations, new births, deaths and even just sitting around with friends telling jokes and making memories,” she said.
She spoke, too, of the family — both of blood and band.
“I have gained more family members that would do anything to fight by my side, and I would do anything for them,” she said.
“I know it’s not easy for my family to watch me leave for long periods of time, not knowing if I’ll be able to make it to birthdays and holidays due to military service, or not knowing if I’ll get called to duty at any time,” she said, noting the support of her mother and her husband.
“Family is the strength behind every dedicated solider. So when you go home and celebrate Veterans Day from now on, don’t just thank the soldiers, but thank the families as well.”