Each year, the School community joins together near Veterans Day to recognize military service and those alumni who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It is a time-honored tradition that helps students understand the significance of military service and the corresponding values of a Portsmouth Abbey education.
Retired Army Col. Bryndol Sones, Ph.D., produces the yearly program and works with alumni, students, parents, faculty and staff to bring diverse perspectives to those attending the special assembly. Before joining the Abbey community, Col. Sones served for 28 years of active duty and more than a decade of that time was spent teaching, coaching, and mentoring students at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He remains connected with West Point as an admissions representative. At the Abbey, he teaches in the Math Department, assists with coaching squash and sailing, and serves as an affiliate houseparent in St. Benet’s House. His daughters, Lily and Georgia, graduated from the Abbey in 2021 and 2023, respectively.
The connection between family and military service was a common thread in the discussion involving the six panelists participating in the program. Two students, Sean Brennan ’24 and Thomas O’Hara ’24, have family members currently serving. Lt. Philip Youngberg ’11, who serves in the U.S. Navy, joined his alma mater while stationed locally for training at the Naval Base in Newport. Retired Lt. Col. Amy Stowe served 20 years as a nurse in the United States Army and is a nurse in the School’s infirmary. Dean of Student Life Paula Walter and Senior Network Support Specialist Robert Brett also had family members who served with dignity. Walter’s great-grandfather joined the U.S. Army at 17, served during World War I and earned the nation’s highest military distinction, the Medal of Honor.
Taking questions from the audience, the panelists all spoke with pride about military service and the sacrifices made by active military personnel and the family members who, in their way, serve along with them. “I have distinct memories as a young boy, standing on the pier, waiting for my father’s arrival after deployment,” Robert Brett told the audience. “He was an enlisted sailor from humble beginnings and was gone months at a time. For me, it was often a ‘rinse and repeat’ situation, but it is the life you come to accept, and I am extremely proud of how my father rose through the ranks and for all he accomplished during his time in the Navy. He made a difference.”
Technological advances have made it easier for families to stay connected when service members are deployed, but adjustments are still necessary. “It is different than what I have been used to in terms of how often I see my brother,” said Sean Brennan ’24, “But knowing what he is doing also makes it exciting when I see him. He is proud to serve and lead.”
Both parents were Naval Flight Officers in the O'Hara family, and two children (Abbey graduates Sean ’21 and Lisie ’22) attend service academies. Thomas O’Hara ’24, who also hopes to attend a service academy, reflected on his father’s continued service in the Navy at the U.S. Naval War College and on his mother, Director of Development Data and Analytics Nora O’Hara, who, as a Naval Reservist, continues to serve through her work with NATO and other outreach programs. “My parents have amazing stories and are just cool people. I am proud of them,” he remarked. “When my siblings first left, it was weird, but now I don’t think about it much except that the Army-Navy game has become a huge family rivalry.”
For Lt. Col. Amy Stowe, USA (Ret.), the military offered an opportunity to continuously develop skills and acquire knowledge. “I knew the Army would provide a unique education, and the opportunities were limitless,” she said. “Where else would a nurse be able to attend flight school, jump out of planes or train in the Mojave Desert?” She also advised students unsure if they were ready to embark on a military career to participate in any leadership programs offered and visit military bases and service academies. “You may find it isn’t the right fit, and that is okay,” she said. Lt. Col. Stowe and Lt. Philip Youngberg ’11 were also asked if they would make the same choice again after knowing what military service would involve. Both said, “Yes.”
As the panel concluded, the thread of service to others, supporting family, and being a role model came through. “My Great-grandfather didn’t talk much about his service. He was a natural leader and later served as a police officer, postal worker and postmaster general. Still, he was most proud of being able to support his family,” said Walter.
“What stands out to me, listening to my fellow panelists today, is the idea of connecting,” said Lt. Youngberg. “Connections in the military, like here at the Abbey, are forever.”
Before the panel began, the National Anthem was sung by Alaina Zhang ’25, Maggie Whelan ’24, Rebecca Li ’24, Charlotte Colby ’25 and Lila Bragan ’25. Director of Music Michael Carnaroli accompanied them on piano. Following the panel, Father Gregory read the names of the 17 Portsmouth alumni who died in service to their country. In honor of their sacrifice, we also share them here.
Portsmouth Abbey graduates killed in action.
ALAN DUFFY ’33
PIERRE ERHARD ’34
ROBERT SULLIVAN ’35
ALVIN B. BURDEN ’36
EDWARD L. LEAHY ’37
EDMUND D. ROCHE ’37
CHARLES R. LATHROP ’38
DAVID O’BRIEN ’38
RICHARD M. COMBS ’39
REGINALD DUSSAQ ’40
THOMAS FOLEY ’41
ROBERT F. GLENNON ’41
EDMUND L. GARESCHE ‘42
THOMAS C. PRICE ’47
THOMAS A. HUBBARD ’48
BRUCE O’BRIEN ‘49
ROBERT J. REILLY ‘57