LACONIA — Yesterday, at the 11th hour of the 11 day in the 11 month, when 97 years ago the armistice ended the First World War, some 100 people gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1670 to mark Veterans Day by remembering, honoring and thanking all those, both quick and dead, who have served in the armed forces of the United States.
"Mother Nature has never been a good friend of mine," said Bill North, the post commander, as he opened the celebration at Post 1670 on Court Street as rain fell on Veterans Square.
Originally celebrated as Armistice Day to signal all quiet on the western front in 1918, Nov. 11 became Veterans Day in 1954. After being moved to the fourth Monday in October in 1971, Veterans Day was restored to its original date and time in 1978.
In his keynote address, Mayor Ed Engler recalled President Ronald Reagan, speaking at the Vietnam War Memorial in 1988, when he said "for long a time, they stood in a chill, as if on a winter night's watch. And in that night, their deeds spoke to us, but we knew them not. And their voices called to us, but we heard them not."
But, Reagan continued the night is over. We see these men and women and know them once again."
The mayor also called to mind the words of President John F. Kennedy, spoken amid the tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery in 1961, noting that they seem to ring as true today as they did then. "In a world tormented by tension and the possibilities of conflict ... in an age that threatens the survival of freedom, we join together to honor those who made our freedom possible."
Acknowledging his privilege to speak for all residents of the city, Engler said while the day in an occasion to thank all veterans, it is natural to "focus our thoughts on specific individuals who hold special places in our hearts and minds."
The mayor then turned to Don O'Hara, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 90. In the winter of 1944-1945, O'Hara was a 20-year-old soldier in the 3rd Army commanded by Gen. George Patton. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his valor the fierce fighting in bitter cold remembered as the Battle of Bulge. But, rather than recall his heroism, Engler said, O'Hara preferred to recount a short conversation he had with his commanding officer.
Engler said that O'Hara's Jeep became mired in the mud of Belgian road just as Patton's convoy was trying to pass by.
"Patton stands in his own jeep, looks down at Don and says, 'Soldier, get that damn Jeep off the road,'" Engler continued. "'Yes,sir' was all he remembered saying."
"Don," the mayor said, "I am thinking of you today. I miss you. Thank you for being a friend. And on behalf of all of us, thank you for your extraordinary service to our country."
Ray Peavey, commander of American Legion Wilkins-Smith Post 1 noted that less than a tenth of all Americans are veterans of the armed forces and spoke of the "high cost of being a veteran — blood, sweat and sacrifice."
North urged everyone to talk to a veteran, listen to a veteran and thank a veteran, whose service has ensured the freedom and security enjoyed and cherished by all Americans.
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