Old Hammondtown School’s cafetorium was filled nearly to capacity as the community came out in force to celebrate veterans on Friday, November 10.
After the Mattapoisett Police Color Guard presented the colors, American Legion Florence Eastman Post 280 Commander Michael Lamoureux led the Pledge of Allegiance, and the post’s Chaplain Richard Langhoff led everyone in prayer, Mattapoisett’s native Miss Massachusetts Jillian Zucco gave a pitch-perfect rendition of the National Anthem.
Representative and Mattapoisett resident William Straus said that what we have learned about veterans is just how “…difficult adjusting after serving can be.…” He said we must all “express our gratitude to those who have served,” and added, “…that we can and should think of ways to help our veterans.” Straus’ comments were followed by Old Hammondtown School’s band performing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
Selectman Tyler Macallister talked about Mattapoisett’s support of veterans and active duty service members as witnessed by those who attended the day’s event, while Tri-Town Veterans’ Agent, veteran, and post member Barry Denham said, “As I get older and look out at all these young people, I realize that they will be the veterans of the future.” He said he hoped that 60 years from now, “Veterans Day is as important as it is today.”
The Showstoppers sang a tender song titled “American Tears,” followed by an annual tradition – George Randall’s extemporaneous reciting of the Gettysburg Address.
Randall’s father learned the speech over a century ago, and he taught it to his son, George, who has carried on the tradition ever since. Lamoureux wondered aloud, “I don’t know who is going to do this after you, George.”
Center School’s chorus sang “This Land Is Your Land,” followed by a violin solo by the petite violinist Miss Tessa Ripley who performed “American Patrol.”
Guest speaker Dr. James Hickey, retired U.S. Navy commander, was introduced and invited to the podium where he spoke about the impact one person can have on society. He said that those who serve are “a tribute to our great nation and our ability to gather.”
“I’ve been around the world,” said Hickey. “Not all have the right.”
Hickey said he wanted to talk about veterans and those who serve today, not his career. He said World War I was supposed to be the end of such conflicts – ‘the war to end all wars’ – but there have been many more that have followed.
“The common element was the men and women who served in uniform honorably,” Hickey said. “Most came home. Some did not.”
Hickey explained for the benefit of the children in attendance the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, a day that was championed by Raymond Weeks, a WWII veteran.
Weeks successfully petitioned the federal government to expand Armistice Day into what we now know as Veterans Day back in 1947. For his efforts, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“One person can make a difference,” Hickey said.
Quoting from President John F. Kennedy’s famous January 20, 1961 Inaugural Address when he uttered the unforgettable phrase “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Hickey reminded those in attendance that Kennedy’s speech went on to say, “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Hickey said that only through service would humankind know freedom.
Hickey went on to say that it was easy to focus on heroes, yet behind all those heroes were thousands of others who served with honor.
“Many millions have simply done their jobs for us,” said Hickey, adding that we must not lose sight that the “mission is not complete,” “the torch has been passed,” “the young must stand ready.”
Hickey concluded his comments by quoting Winston Churchill who is credited with saying, “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” Before leaving the podium he added, “We are a beacon to people around the world.”
Zucco and the Showstoppers closed out the observances with a harmonious singing of “God Bless America,” followed by a retiring of the colors.
Mattapoisett Boy Scout Troop 53 completed the day’s events with a ceremony at Dunseith Gardens where they retired some 500 flags by the standards of the U.S. Flag Code – by burning, after it has been folded to code. This solemn, but necessary, ceremony has been performed by Troop 53 for several years. If ever you have a flag that needs to be retired, you may place it in the box located in front of Mattapoisett Town Hall.
By Marilou Newell