Published in the November 14, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD — Those who attended Friday’s Veterans’ Day ceremonies not only got to hear great patriotic music by some of Wakefield’s best singers and musicians, they were also treated to a rousing keynote speech that drew a standing ovation from the hundreds in the audience in Veterans Memorial Auditorium at the Galvin Middle School.

United States Marine Corps veteran and chairman of the Veterans Advisory Board Jay Pinette introduced keynote speaker U.S. Army veteran John Bohling.

Bohling has lived nearly his entire life in Wakefield, having moved here with his family at age 4. He talked to the Veterans’ Day audience about service and sacrifice, using the examples of three soldiers that he knew.

Bohling held up military challenge coin to illustrate the various kinds of sacrifices that veterans make. “Service indicates sacrifice,” he said, noting that the two concepts are inseparable.

“One side of the coin indicates the supreme sacrifice – the giving of one’s life,” he said. He pointed to the portraits of Wakefield servicemen killed in action that line the corridor just outside the auditorium as examples of those who made the supreme sacrifice.

“The other side of the coin is the men and women you see here today, who have made other types of sacrifices,” Bohling said. “Some lost an arm or a leg — or their sanity.”

But he also cited a few examples of soldiers he knew whose sacrifices were perhaps less striking but no less meaningful.

There was a man named Kurt. He was an Army cook. Kurt was from Holland, Bohling said, and gave up his citizenship in his native country “to come to the United States and serve in the Army.”

Bolling also recalled a soldier he knew named Billy. Billy was from Pennsylvania and had graduated from Penn State University with high honors, Bohling recalled. He was assigned to be a mail clerk in the Army. Delivering the mail to soldiers, Bohling said, was one of the most important jobs in the military, because it involved the morale of the troops.

Billy, Bohling said, had sacrificed three or four years of a three-figure earning power. He delayed buying a home, starting a family and building a career, “for $60 a month,” that he was paid in the Army.

Finally, Bohling remembered another young soldier that he met. One day when Bohling was driving home from duty in New Jersey he picked up a young soldier hitchhiking. The soldier had been serving in the Army as a truck driver in Germany. He was on his way home to western Pennsylvania. In Germany, he had been called into the office on his base, where his First Sergeant and the chaplain informed him that his father had died. By the time the young soldier was able to get home, his father was already in the ground.

“That boy sacrificed the last moments of his father’s life that he could have shared with him because he was off serving you and me and the rest of this country,” Bohling said. “That was his sacrifice. He never got to say goodbye to his dad.”

Because of those sacrifices and those made by every man and woman in the military, Bohling said that it upset him to see the United States and its symbols disrespected. He offered a couple of examples.

He cited the way that the National Anthem is sung at sporting events, interpreted as if it were a rock song, a country tune or soul music. He also cited the example of two high school students “who wanted to practice their right not to stand for the National Anthem.”

“It makes me very angry,” Bohling said. “They make a mockery of the service and sacrifice that we all made.”

Bohling closed, however, on a conciliatory note, quoting a line from scripture. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

The audience rose and applauded.

When it was her turn to address the assembly, Selectman Ann Santos observed that Veterans’ Day 2016 marked the fifth anniversary of the completion of Wakefield’s World War II Memorial. She thanked all the veterans for their service.

“It’s such a proud moment to live in Wakefield and to have grown up in Wakefield and be a part of these ceremonies,” Santos said. “Our town continues to be very mindful of supporting our veterans.”

Rabbi Greg Hersh of Temple Emmanuel offered the Invocation and the benediction prayers at Friday’s ceremony.

The Wakefield Memorial High School Chamber Singers under the direction of Ana Morel performed The Nation Anthem and “Song for the Unsung Hero.”

The Wakefield Choral Society performed under the direction of Michael Pfitzer, with Joseph Beninati accompanying on piano. The Choral Society sang “Hymn to the Eternal Flame” and “Homeland.”

The Wakefield Memorial High School Wind Ensemble played “Armed Forces: the Pride of America,” a medley of the anthems of all branches of the military. As each anthem was played, veterans of that branch of the service rose to the applause of all in attendance.

American Legion Post 63 Commander Thomas Collins recognized a Gold Star parent in attendance, retired Lt. Col. Joseph F. Bellavia, father of war hero Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Bellavia, killed on Oct. 16, 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Master of ceremonies and U.S. Navy veteran Alicia Reddin offered some closing thoughts.

“To our youth – take a look around and take note of the amazing history we have in the room, with our public servants, our veterans,” Reddin said. “These are the heroes and these are the people you should learn from. Get their stories. Spend time and ask the questions.”

In the wake of the last couple of weeks that saw the conclusion of a hard-fought political campaign followed by the election of a new president, Reddin offered some words of advice and encouragement.

“Be kind in the face of negativity,” she said. “Be respectful in the face of hate. And speak few words but make them count.”