Columnist John Paradis: A nod to those in the Valley who show veterans love

  • Thomas Burgess, Larry Didier and Tom Pease, of the Florence VFW Post 8006 Color Guard, during the 2018 Veterans Day parade in Northampton. gazette file photo

Published: 11/7/2019 4:14:55 PM
Modified: 11/7/2019 4:14:45 PM

This Monday, Veterans Day, it’s appropriate to say, “thank you for your service” to a veteran who served in our nation’s military.

In response, I will say, “you are welcome. It was an honor and a privilege to serve.”

But this year, I would like to add several thank yous in return to the many people in the Valley who this past year, through acts of kindness, whether small or large, have shown their love for veterans.

So here goes.

To the Look Park gate attendant who waves me in with a smile when I use the park for recreation, thank you. And thanks to the park for allowing veterans the benefit of using such a beautiful natural resource for free — a reminder of our community’s gratitude and appreciation.

Thanks, too, to the woman, who wants to remain anonymous, who gave a $100 Big Y gift card to a Korean War veteran one day this summer. I saw it happen at the store in Northampton and it brought tears to the veteran’s eyes.

Thank you to Becca Coolong and Lisa Rizzo at the Holyoke-based Human Service Forum for their wonderful friendship. This past year, HSF hosted a veterans job expo and resource fair that helped veterans with job assistance and benefits.

HSF also helped put together two readings of “Occupied Territories,” a play co-written by Northampton native Mollye Maxner about veterans returning home and the impact of their return on their families. It was shown at the Flex space at the Center for the Arts on Hawley Street in Northampton for free to standing room-only crowds.

Veterans and family members say it was the most powerful depiction of their experience ever witnessed. HSF is now, with financial support from the community, hoping to bring the full play here next summer.

When it comes to generosity, thanks are also in order to Jamie Przypek and Colleen Chudzik and all the good folks at the Three County Fair, to include the fair’s board of directors, especially Gerry Clark.

The Three County Fair has partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to offer a Veterans Appreciation Day each year so veterans can visit the fair for free. Jeremiah and Colleen roll out the carpet for veterans and give veteran organizations premium space near the fair’s Bridge Street entrance so veterans can meet with veteran benefit counselors.

Speaking of Gerry Clark, I think about Gerry a lot. Gerry, a Vietnam combat veteran from Northampton, is also the Hatfield veterans’ services director. In Gerry’s wallet is an old snapshot of his company commander in Vietnam, Army Captain Donald F. Monahan, who was killed in action on April 14, 1967 during Gerry’s tour of duty. Gerry carries that picture with him every day.

That should be a reminder that while Veterans Day is a day of celebration, it’s also a day when veterans remember our comrades who are not with us and that many veterans and family members suffer every day. That saying, among veterans, that “every day is Veterans Day,” is true.

There are unsung heroes in our community who know this and live it. At the top of the list with Gerry in Hatfield are Steve Connor, Jess Barry, Tom Geryk and Rebecca Twining at the veterans’ office in Northampton and Jesus Pereira in Holyoke.

The municipal city and town veterans’ services personnel in our region barely make a liveable wage in helping veterans and their family members, but Gerry, Jesus, Steve, Jess, Tom and Rebecca do it with a smile and, for them, their responsibility to our veterans is much more than just a job.

I would be remiss, if I didn’t also mention the Veterans Council in Northampton and certainly the great loss with the passing of Brad LeVay, their humble president and Korean War veteran who died this past year. The council does so many things for veterans in Northampton, not the least of which is keeping the important legacy of service and sacrifice going with the Florence Memorial Day parade each year.

Brad will be looking down on his comrades this year with pride knowing a parade will once again be making its return down Main Street on Monday. All the council asks in return is for citizens to show up and that veterans, like Brad, are remembered.

That human one-on-one connection can make all the difference in the world. No one knows this perhaps as well as my friends at Building Bridges. Started by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, the organization each week provides nourishment with brotherhood and sisterhood through free luncheons at several locations throughout the region. Hint: this is another great effort that could use some charitable love.

Veterans wouldn’t know about all these efforts without our friends in the media, who seldom if ever get any praise or recognition. Without their help, the many great outreach efforts in our community would not be successful.

Several of our friends in the press deserve praise.

Carolee McGrath of WGBY public broadcasting, Brenda Nelson and Dave Alvord at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Sy Becker at 22News, and Carrie Casaceli and Cynthia Simison at The Republican are just a few of the many media folks who help get the word out and do it because they care.

Finally, thank you many times over to the staff and care providers at our state and Veterans Administration medical centers.

To all of you who provide compassionate and loving health care for our veterans at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and the VA in Leeds, please know that you are appreciated and loved. And to all you taxpayers, it’s imperative that you keep the support flowing — we need our Holyoke home and our VA medical care now more than ever.

When I think of Veterans Day, I think it’s just as much about everyone who cares for and about veterans as it is us veterans.

So, to all of you civilians everywhere who have taken the time this past year to show us love, I say, “Happy Veterans Day and Thank You.”

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.




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