HAMPSTEAD — Quinn Calder was a little nervous when she stood at the microphone in front of the students at Hampstead Central School.The 9-year-old fourth-grader was selected to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the school's Veterans Day assembly Friday and had some butterflies, but she tried not to show it.
Quinn knew it was important for her to sing, and she wanted veterans to know that she's thankful for their service.
"They help our community," she said before belting out a flawless rendition of the national anthem and then running over to give her mom, Renee, a big hug when she was done.
The assembly featured third and fourth-grade students singing a medley of patriotic songs followed by a moving slideshow with pictures of veterans who are family members of students and staff.
"It's really about being grateful to the veterans and showing gratitude," said Cindi Verrill, the school's music teacher and assembly organizer.
The town of Hampstead and its school district are known for their patriotic spirit.
"I think it's the culture of the school. The culture of the school is really about citizenship and that comes from the staff and the administration," Verrill said.
The community's support for the military has grown stronger since the deaths of three young veterans from Hampstead in a five-year period.
Air Force veteran Benjamin Davine, 27, was killed in 2011 when his car collided with a fuel tanker while traveling to work at a military base. Davine's death followed the deaths of Pfc. Matthew L. Bertolino, a Marine from Hampstead who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, and Army Capt. Jonathan D. Grassbaugh, who died in 2007 in a roadside bombing in Iraq. Grassbaugh was the son of Hampstead Middle School Principal Patti Grassbaugh.
Hampstead students will have a day off from school Monday, but they were encouraged to do something for a veteran, even if it's simply making a call to a grandfather who served in the military and saying thanks.
Principal Dillard Collins also gave the students a homework assignment for Monday. They were asked to find three people in their family who are veterans and learn about what they did while in the military.
"They've got great stories to tell. I remember sitting with my grandfather and hearing those stories," Collins told the students.
Wearing his dress blue uniform, retired Marine sergeant Brett Cate of Hampstead attended the assembly and then visited his daughter's second-grade classroom.
Cate served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps and after retiring he settled in Hampstead.
"The whole town is so patriotic and that's super important to me. I love Hampstead for that reason," Cate said.
Cate's daughter, Emma, 8, was all smiles when her dad showed up to speak to her class after the assembly. Emma and other students in Maryanne Lazzaro's class also read essays that they wrote about veterans.
Emma is clearly proud of her dad for serving in the Marines.
"I think it's awesome," she said.