NEW CANAAN -- When Paul Bucha came home from Vietnam in 1970, there were no parades, no waving flags and little thanks from the public.

A month later, Bucha was called to the White House and awarded the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest military medal -- for his bravery in leading a company of infantry soldiers outnumbered by a North Vietnamese Army battalion in March 1968.

Bucha was honored among a group of veterans Friday during an annual ceremony at New Canaan High School.

"This is our gift to them," said New Canaan Principal Tony Pavia who has written about local veterans and organized recognition events for more than 20 years. "It's the least we could do for these people ... and it doesn't come close to repaying our debt."

Since his return home, Bucha has worked to ensure all veterans get the proper respect for their service and told students in the audience to reach out to them.

"Just ask veterans how they are. Don't be indifferent," Bucha said. "We made a vow to never let the country forget those in the military. That's why we are here, to remember those young kids that are there today and who will come home."

Bucha said people do not need medals to be heroes. Everyone has the potential to change history, to help others, he said. When he came home from Vietnam with his fellow soldiers, he said they were not given a warm greeting or welcomed with the flag; instead they had to welcome and hug each other. He said he never wanted that to happen to any soldier again.

"I had served a year, there were no medals, boots hadn't been polished in months...I looked at them and thought, what a fantastic group of people to be associated with," Bucha said, recalling the flight home from Vietnam.

Friday's ceremony also featured a performance by the U.S. Marine Corps Band from Parris Island.

Pavia said he brought in the Parris Island Marine Corps Band to honor the 80 veterans who came to the event. The band played a medley of the songs from each branch of the military. The veterans stood up when their song was played.

"It's important for us to honor our veterans," Marcus Bailey, Staff Sergeant of the Parris Island Marine Band, said. "It's a big part of what we do."

Bailey also said he wants to inspire students at the school. He said he wanted to expand their horizons and let them know they can pursue music in the military.

Band member Corporal Connie Grace agreed with Bailey. She said it's important for people to know that the band exists. She said music, from the military or not, is very important. More than anything else, she said she loves playing for veterans.

"It's my favorite thing, playing for veterans. It's uplifting. It's motivating," Grace said.

She said she remembers one time she played for a similar crowd and a veteran who lost both of his legs pulled himself up out of his wheelchair when the band played his service's song. She said it was very emotional and moving for her.

Pavia said his students inspire him to put on the event ever year. He said they have gotten more excited and involved, as the years have gone by.

This year, the students volunteered to put together a video tribute entitled "No Ordinary Weekend." The video had an original score written by a student. One of the school's choirs performed a song dedicated to the veterans.

"They do realize that these people made the history that they read about," he said.

Pavia said he also wants to teach the students to have an appreciation for Memorial Day Weekend and all the brave men that served the country. He said he never wants people to treat veterans the way they treated soldiers who returned from Vietnam.

"These are heroes that you have in front of you today," he said. "All these people ... left the comfort of their homes to parts unknown ... people who gave their lives for our country."

First Selectman of New Canaan, Jeb Walker, also a veteran, honored Pavia for his continued efforts to honor veterans.

Navy photographer from World War II, Nick Scutti, attended the event for the second year in a row. He said he is happy so many veterans from the area were honored because people don't always realize how many there really are. He said the students put together a wonderful event and he feels like they appreciate everything the veterans worked for.

"It makes (students) think that we helped them get to where they are today," Scutti said.

Bob Spence, originally from Wilton, served in the Marines in the Vietnam War. He said the students did a wonderful job with the ceremony. Spence said he feels Memorial Day is meant to remember friends he lost and brave men who were unable to come home.

The high school students announced each veteran who came to the event and asked them to stand for recognition.