ORLEANS – If you want to make a veteran's day, take a moment to thank them.
It might seem like a small gesture, but as Keith Arnold recalled, it's one that wasn't always readily given to those who served their country.
"A long time ago, Vietnam veterans came home and they didn't want to be noticed," Arnold, a member of the Orleans Veterans and Memorial Day committee and a Marine Corps staff sergeant, told attendees of last week's Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park. "They didn't want to put up with it."
Arnold, the keynote speaker at this year's Veterans Day ceremony, spoke of how opposition to the war at home led to anger that was often misdirected toward those who served. But he said he's happy to see how attitudes toward the veteran community have changed over time, especially toward those who might not have been warmly greeted upon returning home from war.
"This is 2022," he said. "The world right now for veterans, and for the last couple of decades, is so much different than it was."
Held annually on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, this year's ceremony featured guest speakers as well as a benediction from Fire Chaplain Rev. Wesley Williams, as well as music from the Nauset Regional Middle School band and the Church of the Transfiguration Wind Ensemble.
"Today, people throughout the country will gather to honor and pay gratitude to those who have served our country," said Kevin Higgins, chair of the Veterans and Memorial Day committee who hosted Friday's ceremony. "Our gathering here today reflects the common thread that each and every one of us has to our military."
The annual event allows the community an opportunity to give recognition to all those who served their country. But as Michael Herman of the Orleans Select board noted, observance of veterans' service shouldn't be limited to one or two days a year.
"That gratitude, thanks and appreciation can come from anybody at any time," he said.
Like many towns on Cape Cod, Orleans has a proud history of veteran service. But Herman pointed out that Orleans has the "uniquely dubious" honor of being the only town in America to be attacked by foreign countries in two separate conflicts, the War of 1812 and World War 1.
Arnold called military service "an experience and commitment unlike any other," a 24/7 job that service members have taken on voluntarily since the end of the draft.
"You don't know what's going to happen, but you're there on call," he said.
And behind every serviceman and woman are military families faced with the reality of life at home without them. Beverly Fuller, whose husband, Jon, served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam and later in the Naval Reserve, talked about the financial and emotional pressures that come when a family member is serving away from home.
"In sports, we talk about unsung heroes," she said. "To me, our military families are our unsung heroes."
Fuller for 11 years served as a Naval Reserve family ombudsman, acting as "a liaison between command leadership and Navy families."
"I can't stress enough how important it is for you in the caring community to recognize the importance of family support for our military families," she said.
State Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, spoke of efforts that have been made on Beacon Hill in support of veterans on Cape Cod and across the state. Peake sat on a committee that worked to pass legislation this summer geared toward helping veterans impacted by exposure to chemicals from open burn pits. Likening the effects of exposure to that of Agent Orange during Vietnam, Peake called burn pits "the scourge of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars."
"You can't turn back time and stop the exposure from ever having happened, but we are not going to make the same mistake that we made relative to the exposure of Agent Orange," she said.
Quoting President John F. Kennedy, Herman encouraged those in attendance Friday to act on their support for veterans. For Peake, the turnout from residents and local officials at the park was an example of just that.
"Your presence alone speaks volumes, and it speaks a loud 'Thank you,'" she said.
Email Ryan Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org