Honoring Veterans

12Nov13

2013 Veterans’ Day Ceremonies in Wakefield, Massachusetts
enoch_woodhouse“I’m a kid from Roxbury who grew up to become a soldier and a lawyer,” keynote speaker US Air Force Lt. Col. Enoch Woodhouse told the Veterans’ Day crowd assembled at the Galvin Middle School Auditorium. Yesterday’s ceremonies were presented by Wakefield’s Veterans’ Advisory Board and local American Legion Post 63.

Lt. Col. Woodhouse is past president of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. He was one of the first black graduates of Yale in the 1950s, one of the first black Judge Advocates General in the U.S. Air Force, and the first black member of the 371-year-old Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

“People say, ‘I want to thank you for your service,’” the 87 year-old veteran said. “I appreciate that very much, but sincerely – don’t thank me. That was my job. That was my responsibility as an American.”

Woodhouse explained what it was like when he and his classmates graduated from Boston English High School in 1944. There was no wondering what college to go to, he recalled, or what career path to pursue.

“The only place for us was at our local recruiting office,” Woodhouse said. “That’s where our job was. And you young people – that’s the tradition of your fathers and grandfathers so you can play your clarinet, so you can play your piano, so you can have your app, so you can go on Facebook.”

Many young men of his generation, Woodhouse added, “falsified their ages to serve our country.”

He talked about visiting the American cemeteries in Normandy and called upon those in attendance to especially remember those World War II soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice.

valenza_collinsReading her Veterans’ Day essay, Galvin Middle School student Kristina Valenza posed the question, “What is a veteran?”

“A veteran to me is someone who risks their life for our country and everyone in it,” she said. “A veteran is someone who is willing to fight for the people who can’t. To me veterans are heroic, brave, confident and honorable.”

In appreciation of her essay, American Legion Post 63 Commander Thomas Collins presented Miss Valenza with a US Flag.

State Rep. Paul Brodeur defined veterans as “extraordinary people who come together to do extraordinary things.”

Brodeur called Veterans’ Day “an opportunity to renew our commitment to everyone who served and to the families of those who served. We won’t forget the commitment you made to us, and we will honor the commitment we made to you.”

State Senator Katherine Clark thanked veterans for their service and their sacrifice.

“I hope that you can feel our very real pride and gratitude,” Clark said. “Your bravery inspires us.”

Clark noted that yesterday was the first Veterans’ Day since the Boston Marathon bombings last April.

She spoke of “the immense bravery of those first responders, the medical professionals and even the spectators – many of whom were veterans – who ran toward the destruction instead of away. It is that same spirit,” Clark said, “that we respect in our veterans.”

Rep. Donald Wong pledged to work with Rep. Brodeur and Sen. Clark at the State House on behalf of veterans’ services.

“We will be working with you,” Wong told veterans, “and listening to what you have to say.”

Wakefield Selectman Brian Falvey talked about the unique sacrifices made by veterans. He said that when he travels away from his family for a week on business, it feels like a hardship.

“But it pales in comparison to those who leave their families for a year or more at a time, typically to be in harm’s way,” Falvey observed. “This sacrifice, unimaginable to most of us, appears routine for our valiant veterans.”

Falvey talked about the strides that Wakefield has made in recent years, tripling the budget for veterans’ services and creating a new Veterans’ Advisory Board.

“We have certainly increased our support,” Falvey noted, “but I know we can do more and we will in the future.”

Rev. Maddie Sifantus of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield offered the invocation and the benediction at yesterday’s ceremonies, which also included musical selections from the Wakefield High School Wind Ensemble under the direction of Thomas Bankert as well as performances by the Wakefield Choral Society under the direction of Matthew Jarozewicz.

IMG_9335American Legion Post 63 Commander Thomas Collins served as emcee and observed that yesterday would likely be the last Veterans’ Day held in the old Galvin School Auditorium, which is slated for demolition to make way for the new Galvin Middle School.

Collins offered assurances that the framed portraits of fallen Wakefield soldiers that line the walls of the old auditorium will be saved and restored to a place of honor in the new school.

[This story originally appeared in the November 12, 2013 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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