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Veterans Honored in Scaled-Back Celebration

Nov 28, 2020 06:00AM ● By Marjorie Turner Hollman
Above: Laying wreath at the War Memorial are (L-R): Jay Rowe, Laura Stanikmas, Jim Hastings, Fire Chaplain Rick Marcoux, Town Administrator Denis Fraine, Patrick Pisini, Army Command Sgt. Major Stephanie Cleveland, Principal David Cutler, Father David Mullen.

It was a day of catching up on what had been put off from Memorial Day. This past spring all events, including the annual Bellingham Memorial Day parade, were summarily cancelled because of the virus raging in our communities. November 11, Veterans Day, was quite different. Covid-19 is still an ever-present reality in our communities, so, as opposed to years past, we gathered outside at the town common. Unlike last spring, we are no longer staying home, but almost without exception, all speakers and those in attendance wore face masks, which remained in place except when speakers individually addressed the crowd.

Despite the continued threat of infection, Bellingham residents and others gathered on the town common and created a parade of sorts from the parking area to the war memorial standing at the edge of the town common adjacent to Mendon Street (Rt. 140). Boy Scout Troop 14, Blackstone Valley Young Marines, the Brian Boru Pipe Band from Falmouth, and invited guests as well as residents all gathered at the memorial to remember those from Bellingham who have served and those who died in service to their country. Local veterans and Bellingham residents Laura Stanikmas and Jay Rowe carried and placed the wreath at the memorial. Fire Chaplain Rick Marcoux offered an opening prayer at the memorial. Veteran Jim Hastings, chair of the Veterans Day Committee, thanked Lori Fafard for her hard work planting fall flowers all around the memorial.

Once the brief wreath-laying ceremony was completed, the crowd followed the pipe band in a less organized parade to the gazebo, where the well-orchestrated program continued under cloudy skies. Rain held off, the day was mild, and we kept our distance from one another even as we stayed to listen.

After an opening prayer at the gazebo, offered by veteran Father David Mullen, BHS alumni Robert and Joseph Oliver sang the National Anthem. Later on in the program, we heard from Stall Brook Elementary third-graders and 1st- and 2nd-place poetry contest winners Chloe Wyllie and Charlie Simon, but first they led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jim Hastings offered congratulations to the U.S. Marines for its 245th birthday, celebrated the day before Memorial Day. He reminded veterans that starting that day they are eligible for free lifetime passes to all our national parks. Perhaps mindful of the program’s being outdoors, or simply because veterans have been taught to think of others more than themselves, each of the speakers kept their remarks brief.

Veteran Laura Stanikmas asked, “What is a veteran?” Her answer, “Veterans made a commitment to serve this nation for the common good.” She ended her brief remarks with a quote from George Washington: “The willingness to serve is directly related to how we treated our veterans from previous wars.”

Veteran Jay Rowe kept his remarks brief as well. He related that he comes from a long line of veterans who have served in previous wars. His story of his journey from joining the Army at 17 to shifting to the Marines was humorous, tied in with sibling rivalry and a determination not to let his brother get the better of him. He finished by affirming, “Joining the Marines was the smartest move I have ever made.”

Bellingham Principal David Cutler, veteran of the U.S. Navy, who served in Iraq in 2003, spoke little of himself, instead pointing to the privilege he feels in continuing to serve our community as principal of Bellingham Memorial School. The school was “built to remember all veterans,” he reminded us.

Army Command Sgt. Major Stephanie Cleveland (right) offered the keynote address. She related that she had intended to focus on Deborah Sampson, the first woman veteran from Bellingham, who signed up to serve and to fight for our independence from Britain. “After a conversation with Jim Hastings, I changed my focus,” she explained. “I returned from a deployment to Kuwait to a changed country after September 11, 2001. I saw respect that had not been there for service members. Jim and his comrades had also served, but returned home from Vietnam to citizens disgusted with the war, and they took their disgust out on those who served.”

After Cleveland’s remarks, Jim Hastings commented, “I never really thought much about how we were treated until I saw the change after Desert Storm and subsequent campaigns.”
Bellingham resident Lori Fafard normally brings veterans into our school classrooms to speak to the children about their experiences. She noted, “This year was different, so I came up with a poetry contest for all our Bellingham third-graders.” The Veterans Day Committee awarded each winner a gift certificate to Barnes & Noble book store. Fafard called up the winners to read their poems (which you can read online at

State officials spoke last. State Representative and Bellingham resident Mike Soter acknowledged the difficult time we all have had in the past nine months. He then related the story of a constituent, whose father, a veteran, moved into the Holyoke Soldier’s Home and described to Soter that this veteran had a huge smile on his face since he was going to spend time with his comrades. Soter next said what anyone who has watched the news knew to be true. Many residents of this Veterans Affairs facility died of Covid-19 “because of the carelessness of those not watching out for those put into their care.” (Note: For cable TV watchers seeing these recorded remarks, or for those who attended in person, they may have felt confused, since Rep. Soter twice said, “My father” when sharing this story, but later clarified that indeed, the man who died was a constituent’s father.) He ended his remarks by saying, “You veterans should be proud because everyone standing here is here because of your sacrifice.”

State Senator Ryan Fattman was unable to attend, so his aide, Jason King, a ten-year Army veteran, spoke in his stead. King said, “Most of us would go back and make the same sacrifice again. We learned how to put aside our differences for the common good and to find solutions to help everyone.”

A lone bugle played “Taps” to end the program, the pipe band played “Amazing Grace,” and Pastor Baron Rodrigues offered a closing prayer. A complimentary lunch for veterans was provided by PJ’s Bar & Grill as take-out.

While the circumstances were quite different for this year’s salute to veterans, the sentiments, the determination to work together for the common good, remains. Thank you to all veterans and those who support them.

Winning Poems

First Place in the poetry contest was won by Chloe Wyllie for her poem: “Veterans Day”: 

November 11, 1918 was a special day.
It’s when the scary WWI went away.
Veterans are brave people who served our country
The Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Army.
Our freedoms are what the armed forces defend
They protect our country to the very end.
I feel sad and proud in November
Their sacrifices we will always remember.
To celebrate Veterans Day there’s something that
     is easy to do
When you see a veteran you can say, “Thank you.”

The second-place winner was Charlie Simon, for  his poem “Honored Veterans”:

Veterans are nice daring, brave and caring.
They went to war, it was not a bore.
They risked their lives for us and they didn’t even
     make a fuss.
Thank you veterans for your love, the ones here
    and the ones above.
Third-place winner was Rylee Skrzyniarz, from DiPietro Elementary, unable to attend the ceremony, so Lori Fafard read the following acrostic* poem, “Veteran”, in Rylee’s stead:
Very brave;
Eager to help;
Trained people
Armed forces;

*An acrostic is a poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, message or the alphabet.
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