HOLDEN, Mass. — Mountview Middle School officially welcomed home one of its own heroes as part of the school's observation of Veterans Day after a school custodian returned safely from his tour of duty in Afghanistan in June.
Last year, while E-4/Senior Airman Alec Connolly was deployed overseas, the middle school students sent him letters and care packages and organized a Cell Phones for Soldiers collection as well as a coat drive for Connolly to share with children in Afghanistan.
Connolly returned safely in June, but, as the school year had already ended and the students were unable to welcome him home, Friday's Veterans Day assembly was organized in his honor.
Mountview Principal Erik Githmark said what struck him about Connolly was that, in addition to his service, while abroad he spent his free time in the community helping students and families.
"He distributed things that we sent to him to the people in those areas," said Githmark. "It meant a lot to me to see the kind of heart he had when he was not working, and he took the opportunity to give back to others. He served our country well, not only when he was supposed to be working, but also when he didn't have to work."
State Rep. Kim Ferguson also presented Connolly with a certificate or recognition from the House of Representatives.
"In ceremonies like these all across our land, Americans will pause to honor veterans that have served over the course of 237 years," she said. "These patriots have stood watch over our liberty, from Bunker Hill to Baghdad, we the beneficiaries of their determination to uphold the democratic beliefs on which our nation was founded."
Ferguson told students that they did a wonderful thing staying in touch with Connolly, and helping other service personnel.
Bill Bailey, former commander of Rutland's American Legion Post, also spoke to students about the importance of recognizing the sacrifice of veterans.
Giving the example of the young servicemen and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bailey stressed that "their tomorrows and dreams they had for the future are not lost.
"They have given them to you," he told students. "Because of their sacrifice, they have made it possible for you to be free to go on to a successful life."