GASPORT — "From the lakes of Minnesota to the hills of Tennessee across the plains of Texas from sea to shining sea ..."

The words rang through the auditorium at Royalton-Hartland Elementary School as students sang "God Bless America" during the school's annual Flag Day ceremony on Thursday morning. The ceremony included several patriotic songs and a display of flags walked into the auditorium by 13 students.

Principal Donna VanSlyke opened the ceremony, to which all military veterans were invited, by gathering Boy Scouts in the student body to lead recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"The flag of our country is not a mere piece of cloth but the embodiment of freedom, hope and opportunity. And we do love our flag. That is why we are here today," VanSlyke said.

Guided by music director Kathy Pease, students performed the songs "Our Red White and Blue," "We Will Sing the World Whole Again," "God Bless the USA" and "American Heroes."

The annual Flag Day ceremony at RHES is organized by teacher Heather Pedini. Each year, she sets a different theme for the ceremony, tied to a significant event in American history, and creates an art piece to commemorate it. This year's theme, the Vietnam war, was articulated in part with her hand-made replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The ceremony ended with Pedini and several students taking down and replacing the American flag outside the school. 

Veterans who attended the morning ceremony — it was presented again at the school in the evening — enjoyed it.

This year's ceremony was the fifth one that Kent Hinkley has attended. An Army vet who served during the Vietnam war, he remembers a time when veterans weren't quite so celebrated.

"When we came home from Vietnam, people weren't too happy with us ... we didn't even want to wear our uniforms," he said.

Things are different today. At RHES, "They always have a great ceremony. Couldn't ask for any better. And the kids are so terrific," Hinkley said. "It really gives you a good feeling."