OWASCO — When U.S. military veterans stepped into the gymnasium of Owasco Elementary School, they were greeted by a sea of red, white and blue.

Around 430 students fervently waved small American flags before the beginning of a program in which over 20 veterans were honored for Veterans Day on Friday, as schools will be closed on Nov. 11 for the holiday.

Retired Auburn Police Department Sgt. Brian Clancy blasted away on the bagpipes as the veterans walked to their seats.

Principal Jeremy Moore said before the start of the ceremony that the school works to instill the importance of community involvement in students. In between trading fist bumps and high fives with children making their way to the gymnasium, Moore said he was happy students would be able to be inspired by men and women who served for their country.

"We're here to teach academics, reading, writing, how to think, but these are the special moments that every American and every human really need to understand," he said. "It's great to stop and think about the people that have gone before, the sacrifice that they've made. Because if we don't talk about it, if we don't celebrate it, then it just disappears."

During the ceremony, Kara Sova played the national anthem on violin, her eyes laser-focused, hitting the strings of her instrument with her bow in precise movements. Her grandfather, retired U.S. Navy Lt. Mike Powers, saluted in the 10-year-old's direction, beaming ear to ear. The other veterans saluted during the performance, with a couple of them also saluting toward Kara. Some people in the crowd cried during the performance.

Later, speech therapist Ken Sargent, a co-organizer for the event, read the names of each veteran sitting before the huddled children. Each name was met with thunderous applause. At one point, a check for over $600, raised by students, staff and parents, was presented to Jessica Strassle, the director of the Cayuga County Veterans' Service Agency. After the ceremony, she said the funds would be a "tremendous help" to the agency.

Sargent said that he hoped that as the students grow older they will one day appreciate and realize the sacrifices veterans make while protecting and defending their country, risking their lives and taking time away from their loved ones.

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"To our veterans, please accept our collective thank you from the students, staff and parents here at Owasco Elementary School. We would all like you to know how much we respect and appreciate all of you," he said. "Today, this weekend and especially on Monday, we want you to know that you and all veterans will be in our thoughts and thank you again for letting us honor you and please know that you are always welcome here at our school."

The event was capped off with the students singing "God Bless the U.S.A." by Lee Greenwood. After the program, teacher and event co-organizer Jacquelyn Ann Aversa said the ceremony was a group effort, acknowledging teachers and staff. She praised the students who created the event's decorations, made the video and were otherwise involved. She said the students used the cooperation and problem solving skills they've learned "for the greater community." 

Powers said at a reception for veterans, with Kara and her brother James Sova, 5, with him, said he was thrilled by the event. Kara said she volunteered to play for the veterans.

"Even though we sang all the songs for them and everything, I want to do more," she said. "I want to really show them that I respect them." 

U.S. Army Reserve/National Guard Sgt. Lee Indelicato was with grandson Clark Indelicato, who was sporting a U.S. Army hat. Lee said it was his first time at the event.

"It was tremendous. It's a wonderful thing, to be able to serve for your country," he said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.