NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Residents in North Adams and Pittsfield gathered at memorials under cloudy skies on Friday to commemorate Veterans Day.
Originally established to mark the end of the "war to end all wars" on Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., the day has come to symbolize the service of all the nation's veterans.
There are about 19 million veterans, many of whom still serve as first-responders, teachers, and health-care workers, said Louis Brault, past commander of the state American Legion, Navy veteran, retired major of the Army National Guard and chairman of the American Legion Riders.
"Veterans are a unique group represented by men and women from every ethnic, religious, and economic background you can think of," he said as the keynote speaker in North Adams. "The one thing they do have in common is their commitment to our nation."
Unlike many civilian jobs, they didn't get to decide where to serve and took the risk of injury and death, and of never seeing family and friends again. The transition to civilian life can be stressful at best.
Veterans take their own lives at a rate of 22 a day and though they make up 1 percent of the population their homeless rate is 11 percent, Brault said.
"It seems like everything from the military to civilian life is a stress point. You have that feeling of isolation, the regret of survivor syndrome, and even worse, you don't feel like you fit in anymore," Brault said. "These are all factors that make the suicide rate among veterans 50 percent higher than their [civilian] counterparts."
He urged his fellow veterans to reach out for help, especially using the 988 suicide and crisis hotline (veterans press one) or the American Legion's Be the One program. He also called on citizens to demand politicians support veterans needs, reminding them of the sacrifices veterans have made to keep America safe.
"The stigma of seeking help needs to end now, today," Brault said. "It's very important that we look at this much differently than my generation or the one before did."
The ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial on Eagle Street followed a march down Main Street by local veterans, city officials, the Drury High marching band, and Boy Scouts, who led the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Post 125 American Legion Cmdr. Mitchell Keil, as master of ceremonies, remembered his own service that began at Parris Island as an 18-year-old filled with anxiety and fear.
"I am often transported back to that day when I need to find confidence in the situation which was the beginning of my journey to become a United States Marine," he said. Another day he's often trapped in is April 13, 2008, when he was preparing for his first mission in Afghanistan on his 20th birthday. Two days later, an explosive device would kill and injure four members of his company.
"It's days like these that veterans you see, talk to, and love are constantly dealing with," Keil said. "These days and memories never leave them. This is why you see veterans band together and why they sometimes seem distant and hard to understand."
He also pointed to an empty seat that should have been filled by World War II veteran Eugene "Red" Arrighini, who rarely missed Memorial Day or Veterans Day. Arrighini died on Thursday but, Keil said, "he's here in spirit and will continue to be present at these events."
Mayor Jennifer Macksey thanked those who had dedicated themselves to serving the nation.
"To those of you who fought in battle, you are our heroes. You did it without prejudice. It didn't matter to you what our gender, race, religion, or political affiliation was. You fought on behalf of us as American citizens, our nation, and our nation's interests," she said. "We are indebted to you for risking your own life to maintain our freedoms. Thank you for your duty and your honor. ...
"Whether you have served on active duty or you are our blessed veterans, you first hand know the responsibility that comes with freedom and your loved ones understand the sacrifice you have made and how the change of daily life goes along with your service."
In Pittsfield, more than 200 people gathered at the South Street Memorial Park to commemorate Veterans Day on Friday. A procession of veterans, band musicians, Boy Scouts, and local officials marched from City Hall for the annual ceremony.
Keynote speaker Robert Walheim of the Jewish Veterans Foundation thanked the veterans of Berkshire County — living and dead — and called them our "unsung heroes."
"They work tirelessly behind the scenes in an effort to build a better community and most of all, teach our youth what being a veteran means," he said.
"It takes a village. I haven't used that term in quite a while but I find it appropriate today. It's a simple idiom that means many people must cooperate to achieve a goal. It is also used to indicate that one is acknowledging other people's roles in the success of a project and we certainly have a great village of veterans here in Berkshire County along with city and town officials that contribute to our success."
Walheim highlighted the Soldiers and Sailors Monument dedicated to city's Word War I veterans behind him and the Civil War statue in Park Square, both of which were refurbished by veterans. He also pointed to the hundreds of American flags in Park Square as a part of the Park of Honor fundraiser by the Pittsfield Kiwanis Club.
Robert Garrity, junior vice commander of Marine Corps League Detachment 137 in Pittsfield, was honored as the 2022 Veteran of the Year for his year of charity to the community.
"I was overwhelmed when I was ordered Veteran of the Year and I need to thank all my fellow veterans and the coalition for this honor," he said.
"I could not accomplish these things that I do without the support of my wife, my family, and a group of old Marines and fellow veterans. Today I share this honor with all of them. None of us make things happen all by ourselves."
After graduating from Pittsfield High School, he went to Parris Island in South Carolina for basic training and then to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for advanced training in vehicle maintenance, where he stayed as a mechanic.
While serving in this unit, he did a couple of six-month tours in Puerto Rico and a nine-month tour in Guantanamo during the Cuban standoff.
Garrity left the Marines in 1962 after five years of service and has since worked on many community projects with his wife of almost 60 years.
"My wife and I make a good team, she’s the brains and I’m the brawn," Garrity said.
He has also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity for 12 years and is a part of a team that installs about 8,700 flags on the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.
In his spare time, he restored a 1947 Willys Jeep to transport elder Marines in parades.
"One of the most meaningful projects I'm involved with is putting flags on graves for Memorial Day and finally get the thank each soul that went before me or their service," Garrity said. "They all are true heroes."
He added that it has been an honor to serve his community and fellow veterans and said they are all Veterans of the Year.
Mayor Linda Tyer, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark, District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Sheriff Thomas Bowler, and a majority of the City Council were in attendance at the event.
"As some of you may know, I am the daughter of a military family. My dad is a veteran of the United States Air Force so these occasions are especially meaningful to me because I understand the sacrifice, not only of the men and women who serve our country and often are often in harm's way, I also understand the families that are thinking of and praying for the safety of their loved ones," Tyer said.
"So as we begin to honor today the veterans that have served our nation, I want to extend my personal heartfelt gratitude but especially I want to extend on behalf of the City of Pittsfield. We are a community that is grateful, we are a Commonwealth that is grateful, and we are a grateful nation for your service. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
The national anthem was sung by veteran Mike Bradley, the volley was done by the Dalton American Legion Post 155 Honor Guard, taps was played by veteran Joe DiFilipo, and the Pittsfield High band played patriotic music throughout the ceremony and parade.
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