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Veterans Honored at Annual Ceremony at Bellingham Library

Nov 30, 2015 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

BHS student Joseph Oliver sings America the Beautiful; seated (l-r) are State Sen. Ryan Fattman, Veterans Agent Robert Greenhalgh and State Rep. Kevin Kuros

story & photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer

The Bellingham Public Library hosted its 4th Annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Veterans Day itself, and there was standing room only. Those who attended heard several veterans talk of some of their experiences serving their country. Jim Hastings, Chairman of the Memorial Day and Veterans Day committees, hosted the program. Originally begun as a program that dedicated the flagpole outside the library in memory of Emerson “Cappy” Eldridge, the event has proved so popular that it has become a tradition in town for Veterans Day, with better attendance each year.

The Blackstone Valley Young Marines carried in the Massachusetts state and U.S. flags. Bellingham High School band students played the National Anthem, and Fr. David Mullen of St. Brendan’s parish, a U.S. Navy veteran, offered the invocation.

Benjamin Stratman, a WWII veteran who served in the US Navy, 1945–1949, spoke very briefly about his experiences serving on a submarine during the war. Many of his family members, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, attended the ceremony.

Bellingham Veterans Agent Robert Greenhalgh urged veterans in the crowd to contact him to learn about the multiple programs that are available to veterans, especially older veterans and those who were exposed to Agent Orange. “There are also benefits for your spouses and dependents,” he reminded the crowd.

Brianna Tucker, an Iraq war veteran, spoke movingly about how she always knew she wanted to be a soldier: “I was a vehicle mechanic, posted to Italy, and promised my mom we would never go to war. And then 9/11 happened. I was stationed in Italy, and we were the closest unit to Iraq. What was supposed to be a three-month deployment turned into a thirteen-month deployment.”

The guest speaker, Marine Lt. Colonel Jason Borovies, reflected on his years in the Boy Scouts, commending the Young Marines present for their efforts and what they are learning. “I’m an Eagle Scout, and so much of what I learned were lessons gained in becoming an Eagle Scout,” Borovies said. He served multiple tours of duty in Iraq. “Look in your local firehouse, police station, civic organizations in your community—you’ll find veterans,” he said. “Veterans have always stood up and fought—against fascism, against communism, and now against extremism.” In reference to his years as a military recruiter, Borovies said, “Veterans, your legacy is secure. There are young people who continue to support and join the military.”

Marjorie Turner Hollman, organizer of the Veterans Oral History Project, was invited to speak about the opportunity for veterans to share and preserve their stories. Hollman noted that she has learned at least three things from conducting fourteen interviews so far, which are all now available for study at the Library of Congress, as well as at Bellingham’s website,, under “Veterans’ Services.” “One—I’ve learned that not every story will be shared,” she said. “Two—veterans are the backbone of our communities; they are always ready to volunteer. And three—veterans have a wonderful sense of humor!”

Jim Hastings followed up Marjorie’s comments, noting that he recorded his stories ten years ago at the Natick Veterans oral history project; he urged veterans to share their stories. “If we don’t tell our stories, who will know what happened?” Hastings asked.

Elected state officials Sen. Ryan Fattman and Rep. Kevin Kuros attended. Fattman asked, “How do our veterans serve as they do?” Looking at Ben Stratman’s children and grandchildren in the audience, he said “It’s for our children’s sake.” Kuros spoke very briefly about what valor is and about the legislation to criminalize the act of claiming veteran’s status for personal gain.

Bellingham High School student Joseph Oliver closed the ceremony by signing “America the Beautiful.” Father Albert Faretra of St. Blaise Church offered a closing prayer. Afterwards many ventured out into the rain, and Benjamin Stratman and Brianna Tucker laid a memorial wreath at the flagpole, to the always-moving sound of a single trumpet playing “Taps.”
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