They came to the school assembly twice a year, Memorial Day and Armistice Day, two very old men with long white beards, wearing dark blue campaign hats and very faded uniforms of the Union army.

The men who helped them onto the stage were the younger veterans of World War I and the middle-aged veterans of the Spaniah-American War.

As young children, we had heard that Armistice Day belonged to the doughboys form WWI, that a war had ended at 11 a.m. and that, as told in "All Quiet on the Western Front," a German soldier after the cease-fire had been killed reaching out to touch a butterfly.

But we were fascinated most by the Union army campaigners who were given a pass from the Old Soldiers Home for the occasion. As 14-year-old drummer boys, they had marched off to fight against the South.

Perhaps in their 80s, they sat in straight-back chairs, canes resting across their knees, and listened to our program, applauding politely.

We always got "up" for this day, any diversion from textbooks being welcome. The girls wore white dresses with sashes of red, white and blue, the boys dark blue knickers, white shirts and red ties.

The program seldom varied over the years the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," a salute to the flag, a few speeches and a brief skit, perhaps of a hospital tent with wounded boys and girls playing Florence Nightingales. The boys' chorus would sing a medley of songs from the Civil War, Spanish-American War and WWI.

A glance at the veterans from the Grand Old Army would reveal one of them brushing back a tear when taps were played in the back of the hall to close the ceremony.

The old soldiers then would be helped from the stage and driven to another program at another school in another part of the city.

At the Memorial Day ceremony one year, only one of the old drummer boys showed up. And by the following Armistice Day program we had lost the second one.

And so we moved through grade school watching the seats of honor being taken by Spanish-American veterans, some of them being helped onto the stage by aging doughboys from WWI. We wondered if wars would continue and someday it would be our turn to be helped onto a stage.

Our war, WWII, came and when it ended there were a lot of friends from the boys' chorus who weren't around to be helped onto a stage. Some who were had parts of their bodies left on a beach or faraway battlefield.

Ed Murray, a Navy fighter pilot, missing over the Philippines. Nicky Andros, a gunner in a Navy Air Wing, crashed and killed at Wake Island. Billy Stratton, an infantry lieutenant killed while leading a patrol at the Bulge. Norman Marshall, a pre-med student, dead somewhere in France. The list was long.

Al Medungo, who only wanted to catch in the majors, left both legs at Anzio, while George Burnham, a promising shortstop, lost the use of an eye in an explosion.

But we had our Donald Clark, who won the Silver Star on Saipan, and there were many other honors that came to our gang.

When our Armistice Day came on Aug. 14, 1945, we straggled back home and Monsignor John Sheehan, who had left a large piece of his knee on Guam, reorganized what was left of our championship drum and bugle corps. We practiced our maneuvers using borrowed instruments; our uniforms were surplus Army tans that we dyed dark blue.

But we competed in Harvard's stadium and won the VFW National Championship. A Boston paper ran the headline, "War Torn Band Wins National Championship."

Our reward was to lead the long parade up Beacon Hill, blasting out "Under the Double Eagle" with Charlie DeAngeles, who had wanted to be a jazz drummer, leading the color guard, the sword held in his left hand because he had left his right arm in Europe.

In 1954, President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all the service people. And at ceremonies throughout the country, a few veterans from WWI, from old soldiers' home, are still being helped onto a stage, where they sit in faded khaki with canes resting across their knees.

Knickers went out of style and now the boys' chorus is wearing long blue slacks, the girls different colored dresses. They seem to wonder about the future as we did. And still another war has passed, the Vietnam war fought by the sons of our boys' chorus and the Florence Nightingales who entertained the Grand Old Army veterans.

At 11 a.m. we can close our eyes for a few minutes, knowing that taps is being played, hoping that the sons of the sons of the boys' chorus will reach for butterflies in peace.