WILMINGTON — A project from three years ago became a labor of love for a St. Elizabeth School sixth-grader, and on Veterans Day of this year, his dream became a reality.
Brett Cavanaugh smiled as he surveyed the scene in front of the school on Nov. 11. Cedar Street was closed to vehicular traffic, filled instead with students from the elementary and high schools, parents, Wilmington firefighters and a fire truck carrying a large American flag. A number of veterans associated with St. Elizabeth school or parish sat in the lawn next to the flagpole, and a podium sat on the other side.
Brett said he was in Karen Hnatkowski’s third-grade class when the students had to write something that was inspired by Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I have a dream that all veterans will feel appreciated for their service,” he wrote. “I am in a group called Imagination Players. In this group I have learned a lot about veterans and their sacrifices. We have sung at events for veterans and their families and helped at Wreaths Across America. We also raised money for a Missing in Action (MIA) chair dedication. My goal is to raise money to have a MIA chair dedicated in the BPAC. I am thankful for our veterans and their service.
He learned about memorial chairs dedicated to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action — more than 81,000 according to the U.S. Department of Defense. He wanted to have a chair placed in the Benedictine Performing Arts Center, the school’s auditorium.
Instead, it was unveiled at the base of the flagpole. In addition, a POW-MIA flag was added to the pole, just below the American flag.
“Recently, I wrote a paper to Ms. Wecht to get the chair donated, and she accepted,” he said before the ceremony, referring to elementary school principal Tina Wecht. The school held dress down days, and the Imagination Players had concerts to help raise money for the chair.
He recalled being with the Imagination Players for his first performance, which included singing and dancing for veterans.
“That day, it just hit me, and it all happened,” said Brett, 11.
He said he has a lot of veterans in his family, including his uncle, John Mace, an Army vet who was one of two to unveil the chair. The other was Carol Holtmeyer, an Air Force veteran who works with A Hero’s Welcome, an organization that honors returning military personnel with celebrations when they come home.
St. Elizabeth is the first Catholic school in Delaware to dedicate a POW/MIA chair. The school intends to continue to educate its students about the importance and meaning of prisoners of war and missing in action.
to continue to educate its students about the importance and meaning of prisoners of war and missing in action.
Brett’s mother, Tracy, said the coronavirus pandemic delayed the dedication of the chair. During Brett’s fourth grade year, the students were not around for the final two months of the year, and very little about last year was normal. One regret about having to wait until this year to dedicate the chair is that Brett’s grandmother was not there to see it. She had read his essay.
“She was so proud of him,” Cavanaugh said.
She added that St. Elizabeth School has been phenomenal from the start, helping with donations and providing whatever it could to make this day a reality.
“It’s just been unbelievable, the support we’ve gotten from the school,” she said.
After three years of waiting, Brett admitted there were times he thought the day would never arrive.
“I’m just amazed,” he said.
All photos by Mike Lang.