On a cool but sunny Friday morning, members of the Needham community gathered at the town’s to remember and honor the men and women who have served their country in the armed forces over the years.
The annual Veterans Day ceremony included remarks by Massachusetts Rep. Denise Garlick, Selectman Moe Handel, Commander Matthew Ching and Coordinator of Ceremonies Bill Topham, as well as musical selections sung by Needham youth and presentations by two local high school students.
In her speech, Garlick said there were approximately 420,000 veterans living in Massachusetts today and about 11,000 residents currently deployed.
“On most days, our brave veterans are the ordinary men and women we see walking the dog, eying the groceries, coaching the soccer team, heading to church. Though unassuming, these individuals have performed extraordinary deeds and have done so willingly,” Garlick said. “Veterans are examples for all of us. They do not take freedom for granted. They know freedom’s cost and they know the names and faces of the men and women who paid for it. Our veterans remember, not only today but every day, the men and women who are still serving on the scattered battlefields of war.”
Handel shared the history of Memorial Park, which was built in 1921 and helped unify the two parts of Needham—Needham Heights and the population below Rosemary Street. In April of that year, residents participated in two parades that stepped off from both directions, meeting at the park site where “1,700 people brought wheelbarrows and shovels” to help build the park and playing fields, Handel said.
“Today, Memorial Park serves as a major central gathering place for many of Needham’s activities and celebrations. It remains a fitting tribute to our veterans and especially to those who never returned,” he said.
John Dacier, a student at , talked about how many people in present-day society had “lost the true meaning of Veterans Day.”
“It seems as though our nation’s youth do not truly comprehend the courageousness and heroism that is exemplified in war. Kids feel as though war is simply something that occurs every time they play a video game or watch an action movie,” Dacier said. “The fact of the matter is: War is real. Soldiers are not objects used at a child’s disposal; in fact, they are the men and women who have placed their lives on the line in order to protect the citizens of the United States.”
Dacier asked those gathered to take time to reflect on the true meaning of Veterans Day.
“Ask yourself: Are you truly supporting those who secure your god-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or do you move on throughout the day neglecting to appreciate those who sacrificed so much for you?” he said.
Dacier said he plans to enter the military after high school.
“As I embark on my long application process to various military academies, I realize the commitment it takes to be a good soldier,” he said. “I truly want to be a man of duty, honor and country. I want to feel the comfort of trusting a fellow soldier. I want to join the ranks of the most prestigious military of the world.”
student Peter Madsen also participated in the event, reading the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.
After Ching gave a brief history of the Veterans Day holiday, Topham talked of Needham doing its part in the various wars and confrontations over the years, including those who served during World War II and who, as Needham High School students, “put their lives on hold for their nation.”
“Many of these wars since World War II have left many citizens questioning what we were doing in these far off places. But there men standing here in front of you today, mindless of the politics of national policies, did their duties that they were sworn to do when they enlisted in the armed services,” Topham said. “There are not enough words to express our thanks for their unselfish service to our nation.”
Topham asked the community to continue to honor the “young men and women who are serving us around the world.”
“A lot of those now serving are really citizen soldiers. Over a third of all those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are members of the National Guard, the Army Reserve, the Air National Guard Reserve and the Marine Corps Reserve,” he said. “They’re your neighbors, members who have gone off for a year or more into harm's way. Keep them in your prayers.”