“Paying tribute to all those who have served our country!” was the advertised purpose for the Patriotic Concert held by the Music Department at Sayville High School. “Please tell anyone who has served our country to attend,” Department chairman Jeff Hoffman announced. “We hope in some very small way to say THANK YOU with our music.”
But there was another reason, deliberately omitted—as a surprise—which was saved for the end.
On concert night, current or retired servicemen and women of the United States military, including Sayville teachers, Bryan Coon (Technology), Dennis Fagan (Yearbook), and Mike Huggins (Social Studies), came to hear the performances by the talented Sayville High School music students.
Once the Sayville VFW Post 433 Honor Guard (A. Henning, G. McEwen, M. Alcabes, J. Demmers, and S. Hurst) presented the colors during the Pledge of Allegiance, the program delivered—as promised—inspirational renditions of the Star Spangled Banner (Jazz Choir directed by Jeff Hoffman), Simple Gifts (String Ensemble directed by Ari Kramer), God Bless America (Chorale directed by Karen DiMartino), along with the Armed Forces Salute, Shenandoah, and Stars and Stripes Forever, (Wind Ensemble directed by Andrew Giammalvo). In addition, High School senior Christian Savini gave a moving recitation of a poem he wrote to honor those “iconic heroes” who do the work that “no will else will.”
As a further tribute to the five branches, Mr. Hoffman invited the military members in the audience to stand when they heard their anthem played during the medley entitled Armed Forces Salute. Applause erupted for each hymn, but mostly, for those who stood proudly at attention.
“It is an honor and a privilege,” Principal Ron Hoffer began as he addressed the guests before the last song “to recognize the heroism, courage, and service of our great country’s servicemen and servicewomen.” After acknowledging their selfless acts of service, Mr. Hoffer revealed the surprise of the evening.
“We, collectively, wanted to seize this opportunity to recognize the tremendous dedication of one of our own: Captain Michael Huggins.”
“Captain Huggins has served in four deployments, in addition to a current assignment as the Chief of Wing Intelligence for the 106th Combat Search and Rescue Wing at East Hampton Beach Air Force Base. Now, on behalf of our country, our school community, my family, and myself, I want to publicly thank Captain Huggins and all our servicemen and women who have served our country!”
Thunderous clapping filled the auditorium during the standing ovation which followed. When it abated, Town of Islip Supervisor Tom Croci stepped forward to congratulate Captain Huggins “for a job well done” and presented a Citation Proclamation on behalf of 334,000 residents as well as the town board. He lauded the hometown community of Sayville for taking “time to spend an evening honoring the men and women who serve this country and make our lives on the South Shore of Long Island safe and free…”
“Having somebody like Captain Huggins,” Mr. Croci continued, “who not only serves the community everyday in his role as a teacher, but his country as a Captain in the United States Air Force, is that we get to hear stories about veterans… about where they were trained, where they served and the men and women they served with…” Mr. Croci esteemed the value of sharing the veterans’ real stories to give our young perspective “and when you honor someone like Captain Huggins, honoring his great service to the community, you are also honoring all the veterans…and all their families.”
Social Studies teacher and Air Force Captain Mike Huggins, who spent his tours in Afghanistan and more recently in Africa, was visibly moved by the surprise. Initially speechless with gratitude and humility, Captain Huggins shared a story about a Somalian soldier’s appreciation of our unique democracy which allows for the transfer of presidential power without bloodshed. After Captain Huggins expressed his appreciation for the evening’s tribute, he acknowledged the dedication of his fellow servicemen and women—heroes fighting for freedom—but especially Vietnam and Korean vets, who, for so long, were not duly recognized for their service. “As a social studies teacher, I promise you guys, that my students will all know about Vietnam and Korea and not forget the great sacrifices that you made.”
Stars and Stripes Forever was the uplifting musical conclusion to a tribute that meant so much to so many.
photos and story by Linda Mittiga