Nearly a century after the day first celebrated “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” in 1918, Veterans Day will once again be commemorated in ceremonies in Gloucester and Manchester.
World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, but the fighting had ceased the year before with an armistice signed at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, the date that is now called Veterans Day.
Nov. 11, 1918, was generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars,” according to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs website. In 1938, Congress made that date a holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.”
In 1954, Congress changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day to acknowledge what happened in the decades after that and to honor “all American veterans of all wars.” By that time, the veterans affairs office noted that World War II “had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the nation’s history.”
In Gloucester, the annual Veterans Day ceremony on Monday starts at 9 a.m. at Gloucester High School’s Benjamin Smith Field House. There, Michael Chipperini, U.S. Army (retired), and Gloucester firefighter will serve as the main speaker, and Richard Gonsalves, Jr. will be the guest speaker.
Richard Barbato, Director of Veterans’ Services, will serve as the master of ceremonies. Soloist Alexandra Grace will sing the national anthem, the Docksiders and the Plum Cove Singers will provide musical offerings, and the Gloucester High School Marine Corps JROTC will provide a drill team demonstration.
This program at GHS will be followed by a parade to the Lester S. Wass Post 3 American Legion hall for a ceremony at 11 a.m., with a laying of wreaths, volley and taps. That gathering will be followed by a lunch at the American Legion Hall.
Mark Nestor, the new commander of the Gloucester American Legion Post No. 3, said there are two significant veterans’ milestones this year.
“It’s the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and the 50th anniversary of the troop involvement in Vietnam,” he said, noting the difference between the two holidays that pay tribute to service personnel.
“Veterans Day is for the living,” he said, “and Memorial Day is for honoring the deceased.”
In that spirit, the local legion is hosting a free “welcome home” banquet for all Cape Ann Vietnam veterans. The dinner takes place Saturday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the legion at 8 Washington St.
“We came home to scorn, misunderstanding and bitterness,” said Nestor, a Vietnam vet. “Society often blamed the warriors for the war. Many of my fellow veterans ‘hid in plain sight,’ and they often paid a high price. Sadly, they became the forgotten generation. Now, in the year marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, it is time to rectify this sad and disgraceful situation.”
On Monday in Manchester, there will be a rededication of the “Doughboy” statue at 10 a.m. at Masconomo Park.
The statue of the “doughboy” — a nickname often used for World War I soldiers — was recently restored with Community Preservation Act funds.
After the dedication, there will be a celebration and collation at the American Legion hall. Those attending the collation are invited to bring a pair of new socks, sweatshirt or other suitable item to be donated to Operation Troop Support for those currently serving in the military.
The bronze life-size soldier, which looks out over the water, was commissioned by the Town of Manchester and created by Philip S. Sears. It was first dedicated on July 12, 1931, and is officially titled “Lafayette, we are here.”
Esther “Slim” Proctor, an archivist at the Manchester Historical Society, shared some information about the statue, made in honor of the Manchester residents who served their country in the first world war.
She said the statue’s title refers to the declaration made when the doughboys landed in France. It was a tribute and a thank-you to the young Marquis de Lafayette who helped the American colonists in their fight for independence, she explained. The statue has an upraised right arm in greeting.
Lafayette, a French aristocrat, was 19 years old when he was so inspired by the colonists’ fight for freedom that he joined them in their fight against the British and arrived in 1777, later serving under George Washington. More than a century later, the statement made by a doughboy refers to the American soldiers now having a chance to repay the Frenchman for his support during the American Revolution.
For our veterans
A variety of other events will also be part of Veterans Day this weekend.
In honor of local veterans and to address their increased risk of lung cancer, Addison Gilbert Hospital is inviting local veterans to learn about the lifesaving benefits of low-dose CT screenings for lung cancer on Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Fisher Lobby.
Staff will provide information and assist veterans in completing a questionnaire to determine their eligibility for the hospital’s free screening program. Veterans meeting the criteria will be able to schedule screenings on site. Veterans between the ages of 50 to 74 may qualify.
There are a number of other discount programs around Gloucester for veterans as well — including one at Cape Ann Car Wash on Railroad Avenue, which is offering free car washes for Veterans Day.
That offer is part of a program called Grace for Vets, which is taking place at locations around the country. This is the fifth year that owner Scott Dewitt has made the offer to vets at his Gloucester car wash.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.