Who is a Veteran? Remarks at the Town of Hull Veterans Day Ceremony

Reverned clergy, elected officials, fellow veterans, citizens of the great Town of Hull, and my fellow Americans. Thank you to our Veterans Agent, Paul Sordilio, for asking me to come here today and to share a few thoughts about Veterans Day.

A few years ago, I found myself at Arlington National Cemetery. Although I had been to Washington several times before this, I had never visited Arlington. It is a quiet place of reflection where one can hear the wind passing through the leaves and, on occasion, horses’ hooves as they carry another veteran to their final resting place.

As I walked the lanes, pausing now and again to wonder about those buried there, I was reminded of the poem, In Flanders Field. We will hear it read later in this ceremony, so I will not read it now except to say that those marble stones placed row upon row reminded me of the poppies.

Arlington is a fantastic place for the private soldier buried alongside the general, and such care is shown in each place. I watched in silence as the guard changed at the Tomb of the Unknown and marveled at how the stones beneath the feet of the guards is worn from their pacing in all sorts of weather, constantly guarding those whose name is known only to God.

One cannot help but feel a sense of gratitude begin to well up inside of oneself for their lives and their dedication to the service of their country. They lie in peace, for their time of fighting has ended.

But I am reminded that today, and this might sound strange, it is not about them. Yes, we need to keep their memories green in our minds and our hearts, but today is about the living, about my fellow veterans standing before me, and to you, I say thank you. Thank you for your dedication and thank you for your duty.

At the 11th Hour, on the 11th Day, of the 11th Month, the guns went silent, and the War to End All Wars came to a close. The guns fell silent, and the long process of restoring peace began. The following year, Armistice Day was commemorated for the first time to remember those who had fallen and in celebration of the victory, they helped to achieve.

An Act of Congress in 1938 made November 11th an official holiday as “A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.” And in 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day in honor of all veterans who have served in times of peace and in times of war.

Although we come from varied backgrounds, we share the ideals of duty, honor, and country. Veterans have been answering the call of our country since those first days on a village green not far from here. They have given the best years of their lives in service of a people and to secure those freedoms that we all hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We owe these men and women more than one day to say thanks, for we are indeed the home of the free because of the brave.

There is one group of veterans who answered their country’s call that until recently was not shown the respect they deserved. These men and women responded to their countries’ call to fight a war that no one wanted to fight, not that anyone wanted to fight a war. They answered the call and did their duty, but when they returned, the country that called upon them did not treat them very well. If you are a Vietnam Veteran, please stand as you are able so that I might say thank you for your service. You did what so many did not want to do. Thank You!

So, who is a veteran? A veteran is a person who has served their country. Many fought in wars, and many, like me, served during peacetime. We served on land, on the sea, and in the air. Many continue to serve their community as elected officials or volunteers.

Many of us were young when we joined up. I was 18 years old and had never been away from home. I remember that day in September when I raised my right hand and swore an oath with the words first used in 1789.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

That oath did not expire when my enlistment expired, and I renewed that oath years later was I became a commissioned officer.

I was excited and a little nervous about being on this new adventure. I was not sure what to expect. We boarded buses that took us to Logan airport for our flight. I had only flown a couple of times before, so this was exciting. We arrived and boarded another bus to take us to our destination. After what seemed like an endless amount of paperwork, we turned in for the night, and I had a chance to reflect on all that had happened.

It all changed at 4:30 the following day when the lights suddenly burst on, and a galvanized trash can came bouncing down the aisle of the barracks. I had no idea where or who I was, but I was being yelled at for something.

We made friends we would have for life and friends who understood what we went through because they were there. Friends we trusted to have our backs when the times got tough and can still count on today. Our time in the service changed us forever.

Many of us received wounds from our time in the service. Some of those wounds can be seen, but many cannot. Physical wounds heal over time, and thanks to advancements in medicine, limbs can be replaced and function almost as good, if not better, than the original.

But time does not heal all wounds, and many, far too many of our brothers and sisters suffer from constant reminders of the things they saw and they the things they did, and we owe them so much more than we have given them; we can do better, and we must do better.

Data shows that on a single night in January of 2022, 33,136 veterans were homeless. That number is down from previous years but is still way too high. On average, 17.2 veterans commit suicide each day, each day! Although that number is down, it is still way too high. We must do better.

There is a cost to war that is not always discussed, and that is the human cost. Unfortunately, for many of my fellow veterans, their war has not ended; their battle rages on as they seek the care they deserve in a system so underfunded that it is overwhelmed and sinking under its own weight. Thanks to caring people like Craig Wolfe, our veteran’s agent, Paul Sordilio, and so many others, Hull does a beautiful job caring for our veterans, but we need to do more.

Friends, if you want to thank a vet today, you need to be their voice and advocate and work to secure the benefits and care they deserve. When they stand, raise their hands, and swear the oath to defend us, they need to know that we will protect them when they return. These men and women stand on walls, in the desert sand, and on the decks of ships, and they have our backs the least we can do is to have their backs when they return.

So today, as you go about your day, remember to thank a vet. And tomorrow, when you see that veteran standing on the street corner with the cardboard sign asking for a few dollars, give, and thank them for their service. Talk to Craig Wolfe about the items he is collecting for the Veterans at the VA in Brockton and give. Maybe stop by a cemetery, find a veteran’s grave, and say thank you.

But more important than all of that is to be their voice. So pick up the phone and call those you elect to represent you. Thank them for all they have done for our Veterans in the past and insist that we need to do more.

Thank you, Town of Hull, for the care you provide for our Veterans. Thank you for being here today. God bless all of you. God Bless the Town of Hull. And God Bless America.

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