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by Jim Raftus, special to RINewsToday
We have all been reading about the horrendous conditions at
Rhode Island’s public schools for decades. Some reports have described chaos
and confusion in classrooms locally. Because of these reports, it was with a
jaundiced eye that I attended the Goff Middle School’s Wreaths Across America
ceremony on December the 13th.
As I parked my car across the street from the familiar
building (I grew up two streets away in the 1950’s and 60’s), I saw every top
knob of the long metal fence which surrounds Goff adorned with an American
flag. The side yard was filled with practically every student from this middle
grades school. Other students lined both sides of the walkway patiently holding
full sized flags on long poles forming a promenade for visitors and honored veterans.
Students were also unloading a truck of boxes containing the many wreaths for
later distribution. Everything was orderly and efficient.
Are these the unruly sixth, seventh and eighth graders I’ve
long heard and read about? Scuttlebutt has it that middle school is…“where we
The program began once we were all seated inside the packed
auditorium. Two students, Emma Such and Chesney Scarpetti, deftly performed a
short, poignant playlet, “Ragged Old Flag”, paying honor to a battered, but unbowed
flag. I am a veteran who has served my time. I love my country but am wary of
overt jingoism. This little scene struck a wonderful tone of reverence and
respect which was maintained throughout the ceremony.
The Goff Middle School Chorus then gave us a strong
rendition of our National Anthem and it was on to the adults who handled most
of the presentations and speeches. The program was impressive, highlighted by
tributes to two wonderful World War II veterans and Pawtucket natives, Raymond
Gannon and Chrispino DiCarlo, who were in attendance. Proclamations from the
Governor and our state Senators were bestowed to them for their service. White
roses were also presented to the many Gold Star family members in the audience.
Melissa Coutu, mother of Goff graduate PFC Kyle Coutu who died in Afghanistan,
gave a remarkable and brave presentation. It was the first time she had spoken
of her loss in public. Keynote Speaker and decorated veteran Joshua Chissini
gave a vivid picture of the call to duty and the obligation to our fellow
All marvelous, however, in reflection my mind keeps going
back to the kids. How purposefully they fulfilled their duties from bringing
the wreaths up for presentation at the stage to lining up somberly holding the
military boots to remind us of those who are now gone. The ceremony lasted
slightly over two hours and I saw nary a snicker or eye roll. I heard not one
giggle the whole time. They were immersed, invested in the meaning of the day.
In the school library were displayed multiple projects the
students had worked on for weeks prior to the event. They had created
personalized, custom greeting cards of good wishes to be sent to current
military members. They had collected snacks and non-perishables to be shipped
as well. To them this was more than a one day event.
Although I’d not attended before, this was the 3rd Annual
Wreaths Across America event at Goff. As in past years after the ceremony, a
busload of students and faculty went to Slater Park and placed wreaths at the
Pawtucket’s 21 Heroes monument and other individual memorial plaques nearby. A
long, hopefully fulfilling day for these youngsters.
The administrators and teachers at Goff Middle School are
doing a wonderful job with these students we place in their care. Kudos to them
and the many adults involved with the Wreaths Across America campaign.
The three word theme for this year’s event is;
I know I will long remember this day. It was an honor to observe. It taught me
to have hope in our future.
Jim Raftus, of Cumberland, veteran and retired businessman.Contact: jraftus@aol.
Jim Raftus retired from a 35 year career in marketing and sales in 2011.
Jim is a Veteran having served in the Army from 1968 to 1971. His primary posting was in Alaska. His Army days served as a chapter he wrote for local author Terry Nau’s book “Voices of the Vietnam War” published in 2019.Jim chronicles the guilt felt by many members of the military who served during Vietnam but were stationed elsewhere.
Jim’s work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, New England Living Magazine and RINewstoday.com
Jim’s higher education journey was an often interrupted 11 year journey which included credits from Roger Williams University, University of Rhode Island and the University of Alaska before finally earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rhode Island College in 1975. Jim was awarded the Outstanding Creative Writing Award at the commencement.
Jim serve as the Foxboro correspondent for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle in the late 1970’s.
He is a Rhode Island native and long time resident of Cumberland.