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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
On Monday, Wellesley police officers, firemen, veterans and various other members of the community gathered inside the still-under-renovation Great Hall inside of Town Hall to honor the town’s veterans. With around 75 people in attendance, the event began at 11 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, which attendees would learn the importance of soon after.
After an opening statement from Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Joe Olivieri and a prayer from Army Sergeant Royall Switzler, Marine Sergeant Pete Jones posted the POW/MIA flag and saluted the empty chair that represents those still missing in action. While the POW/MIA flag is most often associated with Vietnam - and Jones is a Vietnam veteran - during his speech, Jones threw out some staggering numbers about soldiers missing from all of America’s wars. He noted that “There are 70,000 still unaccounted for from World War Two, 8,100 from The Korean War, twelve from the Cold War, 1,810 from Vietnam, and three from the Gulf War.” Before saluting the empty chair, Jones declared that “we must be ever mindful that the sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice.”
A Girl Scout troop from Wellesley then led the room in The Pledge of Allegiance, before reading a statement that repeated the refrain that “those of us who didn’t serve will never fully understand” with such statements like “the depths of your scars” and “what you were required to do and how you were able to do it” before ending with: “What we offer you is this. We see you. Thank you for your service. You will not be forgotten.”
Navy veteran and MassBay Community College professor John Dirlam then gave a brief history of veterans Day, explaining why the holiday is always on November eleventh. Dirlam explained that the holiday was originally Armistice Day, in honor of the end of fighting on the Western Front in World War One. When World War Two veterans came home, many people wanted them to be recognized, so Armistice Day became Veterans Day. The holiday became a floating Monday holiday in 1971, a move which was met with intense resistance from World War One veterans - so much so that seven years later it was moved back to the eleventh day of November.
Another tradition is the reading of “In Flanders Fields,” which Army Sergeant Lorelei King read at the ceremony after giving a brief history of the poem. She and Jones then folded a POW/MIA flag, and Oivieri concluded the ceremony by inviting the attendees to enjoy some complimentary coffee and donuts.