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Massena teachers wearing boots to raise money, remember D-Day Invasion

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MASSENA — Today’s Dress-Down Day fundraiser in the Massena Central School District will serve two purposes: to raise money and to remember a special day in history.

Staff members in the district normally take part in Dress-Down Day on Fridays as a fundraiser, but high school social studies teacher Daniel E. Skamperle is asking them to change that up a bit today by wearing boots to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. He’s calling it “Operation: Boots on the Ground.”

Money raised will be donated to Disabled American Veterans Chapter 171.

Mr. Skamperle said that with the anniversary of D-Day coming up, he had talked with his driving partner about doing a different type of Dress-Down fundraiser on the anniversary date.

“I got to talking about it with some of the veteran teachers. It was another veteran teacher who coined the phrase ‘Boots on the Ground,’” Mr. Skamperle said. “That’s what started it out.”

He said today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the 1944 Allied invasion of Western Europe on the beaches of Normandy, France. Although his grandfather didn’t land on shore, he was in the Navy and part of the 1944 effort.

“Thousands of men offered and gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect the world from the forces of fascism. The only thing I would like more than to be at one of the re-enactments is to hear my grandfather tell his story of that day one more time,” Mr. Skamperle said.

“I cannot do either, but I can do something to honor those who served on that day, and the long line of soldiers who have served both before and after, in the name of freedom. I would like to dedicate funds from Dress-Down Day on Friday, the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, to a local veteran organization,” he said.

The “Operation: Boots on the Ground” campaign will specifically honor veterans “who gave so much on D-Day when American boots landed on European soil,” Mr. Skamperle said.

Staff members are being asked to wear any type of boot today, whether it’s combat, work, hiking or cowboy, to rock band, moon, biker or hip boots.

“They all, in some way, represent freedom and our American way of life. It’s just one of those examples of the freedom that we have in America with so many different styles to choose from. The boot represents who we are,” Mr. Skamperle said.

Teachers in all of the district’s schools will be participating today. But along the way, the fundraiser has gone beyond Massena Central’s walls.

“There are some other school districts that have gotten hold of my email, and I believe may be joining us,” Mr. Skamperle said.

On top of that, he said, the New York State United Teachers office in Albany found out about the effort and is joining in as well.

“They will be wearing boots and their Dress-Down donation for the day will also be sent to our very own Massena DAV Post 171. I just got off the phone with a guy down there in the office. He said he’s going to wear his father’s naval fatigues. It’s really taken off,” he said.

The local DAV chapter was selected because of the service it provides to veterans, driving them to and from doctors appointments at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Syracuse.

“I have talked to several groups and all seem to agree that the local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans is in most need of funds. This organization transports disabled veterans to their doctor appointments, etc., across the county and state. As you can imagine, expenses are high,” Mr. Skamperle said.

He said that when the possible closure of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg was announced earlier this year, one of the concerns was the distance patients and family members would have to travel.

“If you think about it, that’s the exact issue disabled veterans up here are dealing with on a daily basis,” he said.

Even before today’s Dress-Down, the effort had raised some money. Mr. Skamperle said the Massena Confederated School Employees’ Association, which includes clerical workers, teacher’s aides, nurses, food service, bus drivers, cleaners, custodians and maintenance workers, has donated $100 to the cause.

It’s an effort many people can relate to, he said.

“The comments that have come back to me from teachers sharing stories about their family’s service members, whether World War II or today, some of them just bring a tear to your eye,” he said.

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