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Londonderry High School sophomore Hailey Gilbert presents a goodie basket to Vietnam veteran Billy Large of Manchester during the Pay It Forward Club's Thank A Vet breakfast Saturday morning. APRIL GUILMET 

Pay it forward

Paying it forward in Londonderry to honor vets

LONDONDERRY — From the hand-painted "Welcome Veterans" signs to the homemade muffins served on red, white and blue plates, members of Londonderry High School's Pay It Forward Club served up heaping portions of love and gratitude during a special breakfast for area veterans last weekend.

On Saturday morning, the school cafeteria was a sea of smiling faces as about 40 veterans and their families gathered for the club's second Thank A Vet Breakfast.

The club, which is composed of 30 students, meets regularly to engage in various community service projects around the region.

The first veterans breakfast was held in 2011, but the teens didn't have the funds to host such an event in 2012.

This year, the Londonderry Town Council and School Board agreed to sponsor the event, and judging from Saturday's turnout, the hope is to make the breakfast an annual tradition.

Dressed in patriotic colors, students served up coffee, French toast and eggs to the servicemen and women, with each guest leaving with a basket of goodies to take home.

The school's cafeteria staff happily agreed to work on a Saturday, while members of the Marching Lancers band didn't mind coming to school several hours before marching in the parade if it meant entertaining some local heroes with renditions of "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful."

Moving event

Bob Stewart, commander of American Legion Post 27, said he was moved by the students' generosity.

"This is really a day to honor all veterans — those who sacrificed a part of themselves," Stewart said.

Sean Cardwell, a 2013 LHS graduate who served as one of the event's guest speakers, shared his own experiences honoring area veterans.

Two years ago, Cardwell built a memorial garden on the school campus as part of his Eagle Scout project. Initially, Cardwell said he'd planned to install a simple plaque in the foyer, but after realizing that some of the local veterans who'd made the ultimate sacrifice had deep roots in the LHS community, he knew he wanted to do more.

"I knew anything I did wouldn't be enough, though," Cardwell said.

Manchester resident Bob Stevens, a World War II Seabee, saw the perfect opportunity to network with fellow veterans and encourage them to share their stories.

Stevens is working with the Library of Congress on the Veterans History Project, and produces the community access program "The Veterans' Forum," where veterans are interviewed for television segments to be aired in Nashua, Derry, Londonderry, Manchester and other New Hampshire communities.

"If you don't tell your story, no one else will," he said.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, a retired Marine Corps sergeant said, "It's great to see the students give back.

"This would have never came to fruition without the Pay It Forward Club," Baldasaro said.

District business administrator Peter Curro, whose father is an Air Force veteran and his two children are enlisted, said he was happy to support the Pay It Forward Club in their endeavor.

"It's been a huge pleasure," Curro said. "Let's do this again next year."

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