CHATHAM – About 200 residents, including nearly 40 veterans, gathered at the community center Sunday for a somber Veterans Day ceremony, which also marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Master of Ceremonies Robert Franz recognized veterans in the crowd, those who served in the past as well as active service members. The experience of serving in the armed forces leaves an indelible imprint, he said.
“It determined who we are and continues to define who we are today,” he said.
Many Chatham men left their daily lives to serve in World War I, he noted, indicating the town's World War I memorial on the front lawn of the community center, on which the names of those who served in that conflict are carved.
“There is an understanding that peace is precious and it has a cost,” Franz said, “and that cost has a first name, a last name and a middle initial.” Until 1964, the holiday was known as Armistice Day after the treaty that ended the war at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918; in some countries, Franz said, it is still known by that name.
Guest speaker Stanley Cobane served in the Marines during the Korean War. He was among the first Marines to arrive in Korea on Aug. 3, 1950, fought in the Battle of Pusan and was among the first wave of soldiers to land at Inchon. On Sept. 26 his unit was defending a hill when he was wounded by a mortar round. Paralyzed in all four limbs, Cobane did not recover use of his arms and legs until a year later. After leaving the military, he worked for Ozark Airlines and in 1964 started an air freight business that is still run by his family. He moved to Chatham in 2003.
Cobane noted that veterans run 10 percent of all businesses in the US and are in all walks of life.
“There are veterans on the Chatham police force, there are veterans in the Chatham Fire Department, there are veterans serving all over Chatham,” he said.
“Veterans put their personal lives on hold while they serve, to better understand the system of command and following orders, and come home to be great citizens,” Cobane said.
For veterans of the Korean War, “the sights, sounds, the smells of combat have never left,” he said. He recalled in vivid detail marching along a dusty road in August 1950; it had been so hot that there were days that “we had as many casualties from the heat as from the enemy.” A line of peasants dressed in rags was slowing making its way south. A young girl standing in the middle of the road crying, her hand out begging for food, caught his attention. She was no older than the youngest participant in Sunday's ceremony, he said.
“I can still see that girl today,” he said. After walking past her, he turned around and looked back, unable to help. “We were living on C-rations and I had nothing to give. I'll never forget that.”
Franz led a recitation of the poem “In Flanders Field,” with three members of the audience each reading a different stanza. He asked members of “The Greatest Generation,” those who served in World War II, and their widows, to stand to be recognized. President Franklin Roosevelt called them “the pride of our nation, who struggled to preserve our civilization,” he said.
“They hold a cherished place in the history of the United States,” Franz said.
He closed by recalling Carl Olson, a Navy veteran who passed away last December. After each ceremony, he would offer Franz advice on how to improve the event, such as recognizing veterans from different eras.
“I always sought him out after the ceremony to see what advice he might have,” Franz said. “He hadn't had many suggestions for the past five years, so I guess I'm doing OK. I know I will miss speaking with him after this ceremony today.”
Participants in Sunday's event included members of the Chatham Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, the Chatham Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and girl and boy scouts. Sarah Marchio played bagpipes and Liam Lawless played “Taps.”