Veterans Day ceremony in South Hadley remembers the Great War, salutes veterans of all wars

  • South Hadley Boy Scout Pack 303 member Owen Abrams, 12, rings a bell held by VFW Post 3104 Commander Brian Willette, dressed in a World War I-era uniform as part of the Centennial Honor Guard, during a Veterans Day ceremony held at Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of South Hadley Boy Scout Troop 303 and Girl Scout Troop 40398 salute for the playing of the National Anthem during a Veterans Day commemoration held at Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. At right is the Centennial Honor Guard of South Hadley VFW Post 3104. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • South Hadley Boy Scout Troop 303 member Ethan Smith, 10, rings a bell held by VFW Post 3104 Commander Brian Willette, right, dressed in a WWI-era uniform as part of the Centennial Honor Guard, during a Veterans Day commemoration held at Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Just behind Smith is Thomas Slater, 9, and standing next to Willette is John Hoefler. The bell was rung 21 times by both Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts of South Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Michael E. Smith Middle School Band Director Brooks Holmes was announced as the South Hadley VFW Post 3104 Teacher of the Year during a Veterans Day commemoration held at the school in South Hadley on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • World War II Army veteran Phill Girard, 95, of Springfield, lays a wreath at a battlefield cross, during a Veterans Day commemoration held at Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley on Sunday. Assisting Girard are South Hadley Boy Scout Troop members Matthew Brown and Brendan Maloney and South Hadley Girl Scout Troop 40398 member Zosha Dimock. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Eric Segundo, director of veterans services for the town of Ludlow, was the keynote speaker for the Veterans Day commemoration in South Hadley on Sunday. Segundo was dressed in World War I-era uniform as a member of the South Hadley VFW Post 3104 Centennial Honor Guard. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Fran Perrier of Florence, an Army veteran who served in the 7th Infantry in Korea, sounds taps in front of Old Town Hall in Easthampton to conclude the first of three ceremonies led by American Legion Post 224 in the city to mark Veterans Day, Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Members of American Legion Post 224 in Easthampton execute a 21-volley salute in Brookside Cemetery during the second of three ceremonies held in the city to mark Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2018 11:58:49 PM

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Brooks Holmes, who was given the VFW Teacher Award.

SOUTH HADLEY — Just as World War I was winding down, on Nov. 10 and 11, 1918, a private serving in the 108th Infantry Regiment, recuperating in Paris from wounds he suffered on the battlefield, received letters wishing him well.

“I hope you have fully recovered by the time this reaches you,” read one of the notes from a woman in Brooklyn, New York, known only as Marguerite.

For Lawrence Sullivan, who found the communication in his family’s archives — and observed that his ancestor didn’t end up marrying Marguerite after the war — it is one the reasons he encourages his students at Michael E. Smith Middle School to write letters to veterans each year, especially around the holidays.

The excerpt was one element of Sunday morning’s annual Veterans Day ceremonies in South Hadley, this year commemorating the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.

The event, held for the first time at the middle school cafeteria, drew more than 200 people.

At precisely 11 a.m., as one of 1,500 registered sites across the country, The Bells of Peace were tolled to honor to the 116,000 American service members lost in the war, including Benjamin C. White, for whom the local VFW is named, and six others from South Hadley.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from local troops took turns striking the bell 21 times. The 21 tolls symbolize the nation’s highest honor, and is based on the 21-gun salute.

Among the Scouts was Owen Abrams, 12. “I think it’s important we commemorate the past veterans,” Owen said.

Keynote speaker Eric Segundo of Ludlow, the past state commander for the state VFW, said service members shoulder the burden for many Americans and know they are pursuing a cause bigger than themselves.

“They serve because they know it is for the greater good,” Segundo said. “More than anyone, veterans understand the real meaning of America.”

A ceremonial wreath was laid by Phillip Girard near the stage in the cafeteria, where a battlefield cross, topped by a doughboy helmet, was set up.

Girard, 95, a World War II veteran who suffered two injuries during the war, was grateful for the support from the community.

“I think it’s the best thing they’ve done,” Girard said of the ceremony.

Girard, who now lives in Springfield, is part of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Western Massachusetts Chapter 875. Several other members were in attendance, some veterans and others the spouses, sons and daughters of veterans, each dressed in purple shirts. Also joining the event were members of the South Hadley American Legion Post 260 and Granby American Legion Post 266.

Brian Willette, commander of VFW Post 3104 in South Hadley, which organized the event, said the day was about honoring veterans of all wars and conflicts, including those who have served and continue to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He reflected on the history of WWI, with the 104th Infantry Regiment’s 26th Yankee Division, the first full division of American soldiers to get to France. In the first battle in April 1918, the Battle of Apremont, the regiment received the Croix de Guerre for bravery. This history was portrayed by Willette and others who donned World War I-era uniforms as the Centennial Honor Guard.

The event also gave the VFW Teacher Award to Brooks Holmes, the school’s band director.

“I do think it’s good to learn about patriotism, and I thank you very much for this award,” Holmes said.

The band began with “Salute to America” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag/America the Beautiful” and concluded with a rendition of “God Bless America.”

Paul Seifert, director of Veterans Services for South Hadley and Easthampton, read a proclamation from Gov. Charlie Baker, and Pam Connors, commander of American Legion Post 260, read “In Flanders Fields.”

Three South Hadley students were honored as winners of the Patriots Pen Essay contest. One of those winners, Daniel McNulty, reflected in his essay on a relative at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke who has suffered mentally from being in the Vietnam War, and why the flag and veterans are important. “The freedom we have today is thanks to them,” he said, and “when I see the flag, it represents freedom, to be steadfast, (and) peace and hope.”

“I think it was a great honor to get to speak to them,” said Daniel, 13.

Willette said he hopes those who came to the ceremony will reflect on what they saw and take action.

“If you are inspired by the veterans we honor today, the best way to truly honor them is to do service,” Willette said. “Military service, public service, community service.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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