Harwich Sets Aside A Time And A Place For Honoring Veterans
EAST HARWICH – In a memorable and unusual ceremony that drew a large crowd Saturday morning, Harwich honored its veterans and dedicated a new memorial to them in Evergreen Cemetery.
At the start of the ceremony, the Rev. Joe McAleer, a veteran of World War II, invoked a familiar phrase.
“‘Home of the free, because of the brave.’ And that is so true,” he said. The memorial includes a circle of flagpoles honoring each branch of the military, and McAleer said he sees the circle as holy ground. When visitors pass, he said he hopes they “bend their heads, shut their eyes and give thanks.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chip Carroll spoke of what it means to be a veteran, and how Nov. 11 eventually became the nation’s day to honor those who served in the military.
“Tens of millions of Americans have suited up and worn the uniform,” he said. Veterans Day was formerly Armistice Day, marking the anniversary of Nov. 11, 1918, the day the guns of the Great War went silent. World War I was “what we thought was going to be the war to end all wars,” Carroll said. Less than 21 years later, the second world war broke out. And since that time, veterans have stepped forward to defend the country in peacetime and during conflicts. Veterans’ Day is a time to celebrate their patriotism, their love of country and their willingness to serve and sacrifice, he said.
“It’s the veterans who ensured that we have the freedoms that we have today,” Carroll said.
Keynote speaker at the event was Harwich’s Art Devine, a Vietnam veteran and U.S. Army Green Beret.
“I came from a long line of veterans,” he said. His grandfather served in World War I, and his father was aboard the USS Ticonderoga in World War II. Devine volunteered rather than be drafted, and served with the Special Forces in Nha Trang, conducting dangerous missions around the region. He was honored to serve with “some of the toughest, bravest and funniest men I ever met,” Devine said, his voice breaking. He lost 14 friends during his service.
Like most Vietnam veterans, Devine received a cold welcome from many when he finished his duty, and remembers returning service members being called various names, including ‘baby killers.’ There were certainly no parades or memorials.
“We were not welcomed home at all,” he said. And Vietnam veterans suffered the highest rates of divorce, incarceration, homelessness, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse and suicide, he said. Hearing the thanks of his fellow citizens, seeing the gleaming new memorial, and sharing the story of his fellow veterans “means more to me than you can possibly imagine,” Devine said.
The event included a proclamation read by select board member Donald Howell, and remarks by State Rep. Steven Xiarhos, the father of fallen marine Corporal Nicholas Xiarhos. Music was provided by the Harwich Town Band, pipers David Smith and Joe Hayes and the Monomoy High School Select Choir. Harwich Cemetery Commissioner Rob Thompson thanked the many people who made the ceremony and the memorial possible, including Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley.
“This entire dream is Robbin’s,” he said.
The memorial will ultimately include a “walk of remembrance” honoring Harwich’s veterans of all the nation’s wars and conflicts, “including all of the names of the residents who have honorably served,” Thompson said.
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