DELHI — Students and staff at Delaware Academy welcomed their largest crowd of veterans to date for the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration Wednesday.

Veterans were welcomed with a slideshow of Delaware Academy alumni who served in the armed forces and invited to sign a Veterans Day banner. Student volunteers escorted their guests to the cafeteria, where they were served a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage on handmade laminated placemats for each veteran to take home.

This year is the school’s sixth hosting the event, according to school counselor and event organizer Michelle Cleveland.

Organizers begin planning the event in the summer, Cleveland said, inviting past attendees, local veterans and alumni.

“When we first started, we had about 20 veterans — everybody fit on the stage,” said student organizer Sarah Ackerly. “It grows every year.”

Seniors are required to complete 10 hours of community service, and members of the National Honor Society are also required to volunteer throughout the year, Ackerly said.

“We’re a very active school, so it’s not hard to find kids to help out,” she said.

Staff Sgt. Jordan Ellis, who works as a recruiter in Oneonta, spoke about the significance of the “Missing Man Table,” also known as the “fallen comrade table.”

The table is round to represent the everlasting concern the survivors have for the missing, he said, and covered with a white tablecloth to symbolize the pure intentions of the service members who responded to the country’s call to arms.

A slice of lemon on a bread plate that represents the bitter fate of the missing, and salt sprinkled on the bread plate symbolizes the tears shed by waiting families. An inverted glass represents the fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake, Ellis said.

Superintendent Jason Thomson welcomed students and guests in the auditorium for a special presentation.

“Today we get to honor real-life heroes,” Thomson said. “Look around you. Our veterans are heroes.”

Students of all ages participated in the ceremony, from the second- and fifth-grade choruses to the middle school and high school band and orchestra, performing a patriotic selection that included variations of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful.”

Kayleigh Verspoor, a senior, performed the national anthem, and Warren Pardee, also a senior, sang a cover of Jamey Johnson’s “In Color.”

Polly Dellacrosse raffled off handmade quilts to 10 veterans in attendance, and students Sean Carron and Lindsay Wright presented the school’s annual gift to the American Legion — this year, a pair of cornhole boards built by students in the seventh-grade technology class and painted by members of the school’s art club.

Pfc. Alex Specht, a 2014 DA grad, described his experiences serving with the New York National Guard, which included the presidential security detail during the 2017 inauguration.

Ed McGrath, post commander of the American Legion in Delhi, called the roll of the more than 100 veterans in attendance, asking each to stand and face the audience. He honored one of the oldest veterans in attendance, Bovina Center resident Ed Rossley Sr., for a military career spanning 27 years and three conflicts.

Rossley said he served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946 before joining the Army Air Force, which became the U.S. Air Force “just about overnight,” he said. He retired from the Air Force on July 31, 1970.

Rossley, 92, maintains that he has two ages — his real age and his military age, accounting for the two-year difference between his birthdate and the one he used to enlist underage.

“The students do a fabulous job every year,” McGrath said, calling for a standing ovation for the students in attendance. “It means a lot to the local veterans.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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