Children sang songs, recited poems, set a white table and told veterans "thank you" in many other ways Monday morning at St. Mary's Elementary.

"This year we're really proud one of our new teachers is a veteran," said grade school principal Nancy Hicks.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tina Valenzuela, who now teaches third grade at St. Mary's, led the ceremony celebrating the service of veterans from all branches, with all the elementary students participating.

"Each class will have something they do," said Lisa Russell, part of the planning committee. "These are parishioners as well as friends and family of students."

The ceremony began with prayer, and then John Swartz with the Disabled Veterans and American Legion Riders, talked about what the flag means to him.

He talked about the respect due to the flag and said every true American has felt a shudder of joy at the sight of the flag.

"It is a sense of belonging to something greater than one's self - of belonging to a great nation," Swartz said. "Patriotism is born of our passion and love for our country."

He asked the students to remember six words in the future, "Freedom isn't free," and "God bless America."

Students then presented a program as their gift to the veterans, with the kindergartners kicking things off with a song as the preschoolers held up letters saying "THANK YOU. WE LOVE YOU."

Fifth graders said the Pledge of Allegiance verbally and in sign language, fourth graders set a white table in honor of missing soldiers and the sixth graders performed a medley of armed forces marching tunes, during which service members of each branch stood up.

Many in the crowd are family members or veterans who the students interact with on a regular basis.

Tom Torrance, a Spec. 4 in the U.S. Army, served in Korea, Vietnam and Europe, and was there as his third-grade granddaughter Lauren Torrance sang "God Bless America."

"This is great. It’s wonderful," Tom Torrance said.

Lauren said it was a nice time to celebrate, and her grandpa said he appreciates what the students celebrating what Veterans Day means.

"It means freedom, peace and most of all patriotism," Tom Torrance said.

Jerry Lomshek, a 3rd Class Petty Officer in the Navy, agreed and said he was glad for the opportunity for four of his grandchildren who attend St. Mary’s.

"It’s nice," he said. "It’s important that kids understand the need for dedication to the country."