Mattapoisett’s Florence Eastman Post 280 of the American Legion has a new Commander.
After many years of service as the local chapter’s guiding force, Michael Lamoureaux retired from those duties in October when Rachel Perron, Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves, was elected.
“Frankly, I’m terrified,” Perron said with a chuckle as she began the Veterans Day celebrations at Old Hammondtown School. But Perron is accustomed to taking on challenges and executing difficult duties.
Perron has seen active duty, having been deployed to Afghanistan, and currently is a higher education instructor at the Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven.
Perron asked the audience to seek out veterans, to ask them to tell their stories.
“Talk to these selfless Americans,” said Perron. “They have stories to tell.” She then invited Chaplain Richard Langhoff to lead the group in prayer.
Quoting from a poem written by John Maxwell Edmonds in 1944 and displayed at the military cemetery situated on the eastern frontier of the Himalayas in Kohima, India, Langhoff read “…We gave all our tomorrows that you might have today.” He said veterans represented the highest ideals of freedom, justice, and peace.
Next came a tradition that many look forward to each year, the reciting of the Gettysburg Address by veteran George Randall. Continuing the tradition handed down through his family, Randall’s voice was clear as he spoke Lincoln’s words, “…That these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” He received a standing ovation.
Local veterans’ agent and Post member Barry Denham said he hoped that one day the observation of Veterans Day would cease, but that would only happen if war would cease. He commended Perron on her election as Post Commander and also spoke to the beauty of the Star Spangled Banner, which had just been sung by The Showstoppers, whose voices rose throughout the ceremony singing several pieces.
Also adding elegance and meaning with patriotic music were performances by the Old Hammondtown School chorus led by Willow Dowling, and the school’s band under the direction of Christian Dow.
At the commencement of his time at the podium, guest speaker Naval Captain Steven Gardiner shared that he was struggling a bit with his speech.
“I don’t like talking about myself… [or] being in the limelight,” he confided. Gardiner, whose many achievements include senior staff positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, has studied at both the U.S. Naval and Army War Colleges and has received the Meritorious Service Medal. He retired in 2018 after 31 years of service. Today, Gardiner serves as a member of the Massachusetts Marine Academy’s onboard operations program.
“In thinking about a thirty-year career,” Gardiner said, and paused. “Well, it’s not about me: it’s about all the people who served with me.”
He spoke to the courage so many demonstrated, like one rescue swimmer Gardiner said spent nine hours searching for a helicopter pilot.
“As I reflected upon those faces from three decades worth of various crews… I came to realize that these people are the ones worthy to focus on here today – not me – because I served with great and memorable people,” said Gardiner.
As a Naval Aviator and Vietnam veteran, Gardiner said he learned to “take care of my people” and a senior officer once taught him “how to constructively use mistakes as a positive teaching moment.”
Gardiner also remembered the pain and sorrow of watching a wounded Kurdish security staff member perish from a chest wound, and the families of service personnel whose sacrifices should not be overlooked.
“The common thread in all was that we raised our hands, sworn an oath, put on a uniform and stepped off… to serve something greater than ourselves,” said Gardiner. In a follow-up, he added words spoken by one of his current colleagues: “So, even though we sailed in harm’s way, I don’t need thanks because the world’s greatest Navy gave me more than I gave it.”
Adding to the solemnity of the event were Mattapoisett Police Officers Felix Perez and Jeremy Young who formed the color guard, balanced by the youthful exuberance of the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Denham commented that the 2019 observances were enjoyed by a “record number of people,” and the crowd demonstrated their pleasure with rousing ending applause.
By Marilou Newell