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Over the last several years, students and faculty at Cheshire High School have set aside certain events to honor local veterans.
In 2007, the Wall That Heals, a miniaturized version of the Vietnam War Wall Memorial, came to Cheshire to honor veterans from that war. Last year, a special lunch was organized to remember veterans from the Korean War on the anniversary of the beginning of that conflict.
This year, CHS Social Studies Department Head Ralph Zingarella, who organizes most veteran-oriented events, wanted to do something to honor World War II veterans, and came up with an unusual idea.
“I was approached by our drama director, Dawn Demeo. They are performing South Pacific, and she came to me to ask if there was any way we could incorporate veterans into the performance. I told her it was a great idea,” explained Zingarella.
South Pacific is one of the most famous musicals ever written by composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. First performed in 1949, four years after the end of World War II, the production tells the tale of American servicemen and women, stationed on an island in the South Pacific, who find romance and struggle with the world around them, as war continues to rage. The musical spawned some of the most popular tunes of its time, from “Some Enchanted Evening,” to “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”
When it was first released, the play was considered controversial, especially for its references to interracial relationships and a song entitled “You've Got To Be Carefully Taught,” the lyrics of which speak about racism. Some states in the south refused to allow the musical to be shown unless the song was removed, and others decried the play as being “anti-war” at a time when emotions were still raw after World War II.
However, South Pacific received more accolades than criticism and quickly became one of the most successful musical productions ever.
And, since it is one of the only such performances set during that time period, Zingarella believes it is a perfect opportunity to once again show veterans that the Cheshire community, and specifically its students, appreciate all that was done to protect the nation.
Originally, the students had planned to invite veterans to a dinner on the day of one of the performances, and then escort them to the musical afterward. However, after some discussion, it was decided a night that included dinner and then a lengthy musical production would be too much for some veterans, many of whom are elderly. Instead, Zingarella and his students decided upon something a little more low key.
“They will be invited to coffee before the show, and then they will have the opportunity to see the dress rehearsal,” explained Jack Senft, one of the student organizers of the event. “This way, they can get there, enjoy some time with the students, and see the show for free.”
As a part of the event, each veteran who attends will be accompanied by two students. The hope, according to Zingarella, is to introduce different generations to one another. The students will have the opportunity to get to know veterans and hear their stories, and the veterans will see how much their service means to a much younger generation.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people say that younger kids don't appreciate what veterans have done for them,” said Zingarella. “It isn't true. It isn't true here in Cheshire.”
Sharon Turret, another student helping to organize the event, spoke of how important it was to introduce as many students as possible to the veterans.
“You are going to have two students being exposed to each veteran,” said Turret. “It is important that they will be allowed the opportunity to make that connection.”
Zingarella stated that veterans are encouraged to wear their uniform or any military clothing they may have to the event, and it was important to the veteran educator that all veterans, their spouses, and the spouses of deceased veterans be invited as a whole.
“We want the spouses of veterans who may not be with us any longer to know they are welcome, as well,” said Zingarella. “They have to know that the spouses who stayed home were just as important during the war, and we want to honor them.”
World War II ended almost 70 years ago, and veterans from what has become commonly called “the greatest generation” are dying off each year. An estimate produced by the Department of Veteran's Affairs in 2009 revealed that as many as 1,100 veterans may be dying per day. That means students, such as Samantha Kolpak, have a wonderful opportunity to experience the “living history” offered by these veterans now, an opportunity that won't be there forever.
“My grandpa was in World War II. We hear more stories now about his experiences than we ever did before,” said Kolpak. “I am just so grateful to him and to other veterans for what they have done for us.”
All veterans and the spouses of deceased veterans who are interested in being a part of this program are invited to contact Ralph Zingarella (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Cheshire High School for information.