At one powerful point in Gloucester’s Veterans Day ceremonies Sunday morning, a host of Vietnam era veterans stood — called to the front by the master of ceremonies Mark Nestor, himself a Vietnam veteran — faced the crowd as Nestor asked those present to remember their often forgotten service to their country.
“We thank you with all of our souls for the suffering you endured both overseas and on the home front,” Nestor said, as the crowd applauded. “Know now that you will never again be forgotten.”
Gloucester dedicated its Sunday Veterans Day ceremony to Vietnam veterans, as this year marks both the 50th anniversary of the first stepped-up U.S. commitment to that war, and the 30th since the construction of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.
Residents and veterans and their families gathered to recognize the city’s veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam — men and women, Nestor said, too often forgotten by a country that couldn’t “separate its warriors from the war.”
Jerris Cook, a Vietnam veteran, retired Gloucester police lieutenant and the principal speaker at the city’s ceremonies, said that it was a war that accomplished very little.
“No one won the war,” said Cook, who served as a sergeant in the Air Force Security Service and spent the better part of two years listening for enemy radio communications. “Nothing much was accomplished.”
Yet, 52,000 U.S. soldiers died in that war — including 11 young men from Gloucester whose names are enshrined on the Vietnam Memorial outside the high school. The war also claimed the lives of more than 1 million Vietnamese.
Cook said he lost friends in his favorite crew to work with in 1967. That crew, he said, was flying low over the Liberty Bridge and an enemy solider was waiting and shot down the aircraft.
“They were the real heroes, their hopes and dreams and plans disappeared in a second,” Cook said.
The Gloucester ceremonies were just one part of a Veterans Day effort around Cape Ann to honor veterans of all wars, especially Vietnam.
In Rockport, ceremonies featured Major Kevin Love of the U.S. Army Active Reserve forces as guest speaker.
In Manchester, the annual ceremony and luncheon also included a drive collecting new socks and sweatshirts to be donated to Operation Troop Support for those currently serving in the military.
All of the ceremonies were geared around observing the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year — the precise time of the signing of armistice that ended World War I in 1918.
The Gloucester observance also included the presentation of patriotic songs from the Docksiders and Plum Cove Singers. At the end of the ceremony, veterans, residents, and members of Gloucester High School’s Marine Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps joined local dignitaries in parading from the high school to the American Legion hall at the foot of Washington Street.
Speaking at the high school, Cook noted that Vietnam veterans still suffer from the war. Health problems from post traumatic stress disorder and agent orange persist, he said, and while people have done a lot in recent years to help those veterans, more still is needed.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the City of Gloucester is doing its part to remember and provide for its veterans.
Last Veterans’ Day, Kirk promised the city would take the lead in hiring local veterans. At Sunday’s ceremony, she said, the city has hired a dozen veterans this year — with six veterans joining the Fire Department, three added in the Police Department, two in the Department of Public Works, all on top of naming of the city’s new Veterans’ Agent Richard Barbato, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“These men served their country well,” Kirk said, “and I know they will serve the city well.”
“Things have changed,” State Sen. Bruce Tarr told the audience at the high school. “As they fulfilled their mission, let us fulfill ours.”
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.