The students enrolled at Jaggard Elementary School were not alive 13 years ago to experience the devastation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
However, that didn’t stop them from celebrating America’s freedom and honoring a soldier returning from the war in Afghanistan during the school’s annual Patriot Day parade on Sept. 12.
In a move by the school to take a more positive approach to the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, for the past several years on the anniversary of the attacks, the students and staff of Jaggard have paraded along school grounds with American flags while dressed in red, white and blue.
This year’s event also presented a special opportunity for the students to show their patriotism, as they participated in a surprise welcome home event for Haddon Township resident and Marine Lance Corp. Glenn Hoopes Jr., son of Jaggard Elementary School physical education teacher Glenn Hoopes Sr.
Hoopes Jr., age 25, had earlier that morning still been in California where he had been since February when he first returned to the United States from his seven-month tour in Afghanistan.
He was surprised to not only arrive to the cheering children of Jaggard Elementary, but to do so with his own escort of police personal and patriotic motorcycle riders from the Warriors’ Watch Riders and the American Legion Riders.
Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey organized the welcome home celebration.
The Marlton-based charity puts together such welcomes, along with sending care packages to men and women in armed forces who are still serving overseas.
A previous recipient of OYRSJ care packages, specifically some packed with supplies donated by students at Jaggard, Hoopes Jr. said he couldn’t thank the students enough for donating supplies to members of the armed services.
He told the students that not only did their donations help him and those at his base in Afghanistan, but that Hoopes and others would fly the care packages to troops stationed on several other bases in the country where those stationed didn’t have nearly as much as Hoopes and those around him did.
“It reaches farther…it doesn’t just affect me, it affects everybody,” Hoopes Jr. said. “It’s bigger than just me and New Jersey and Jaggard School, but you guys are doing a great thing. I’m at a loss for words.”
After Hoopes Jr. was presented with several honors from the various patriotic groups in attendance, Hoopes Jr. himself had something to present to his father, who he called his role model.
While Hoopes Jr. was serving in Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2013, he placed an American flag under his body armor during a flight. Before the gathered crowd, Hoopes Jr. gave that flag to his father.
“An authentic Sept. 11 flag flown over the free skies of Afghanistan — I couldn’t have asked for a better gift to give you,” Hoopes Jr. said.
Hooprs Sr. said he couldn’t be prouder of his son’s service as a Marine.
“It’s unbelievable pride,” Hooprs Sr. said. “It’s close between a tearjerker and doing cartwheels.”
Hooprs Sr. also thanked the school for its support of his son and family, including last year’s Patriot Day parade when the school honored Hoopes Jr. and his family while Hoopes Jr. was still overseas.
“The amount of support not just the school has given, but the staff has given — when they found out he was coming home when he came in February, the staff took a collection to pay for his air ticket because they didn’t realize they fly for free,” Hoopes Sr. said. “They’ve been terrific, couldn’t ask for more.”
Jaggard Elementary School Principal Susan Screnci said doing things such as honoring the Hoopes family and holding the annual parade stem from the school wanting children to recognize and understand the sacrifices military families make and the importance of patriotism.
“It really shows children patriotism and citizenship in action, and it’s important that they understand why they say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and everything that goes with that,” Screnci said.