Ceremony honors veterans for their service
By Carley Dangonacarley@thereminder.com
AGAWAM – This Veterans’ Day wasn’t just about remembering those who serve, but was about honoring the commitment to serve them upon their return home.
Dignitaries from across the Commonwealth gathered to honor veterans at the Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery on Nov. 11. Congressman Richard Neal, state Sen. James Welch and featured speaker Brig. Gen. Giuseppe Santaniello, an Air Force veteran, were among those who attended the annual ceremony to recognize the service of past and present enlistees.
“This is a marvelous resting place for those who served in perilous moments,” Neal said. “How peaceful it is when you look out here.” He took part in the effort to secure the funding for the creation of the cemetery.
Welch said, “We here in Massachusetts understand the commitment and the service they made not only to our country but to our communities being the leaders, setting an example for us to follow.
“We in Massachusetts are number one in terms of treating our veterans when they come back. We always have more to do, no question about it, but we here in Massachusetts certainly lead the way. I’m proud to be able to stand here and say on behalf of the Massachusetts State Senate thank you to all veterans.
“I couldn’t think of a more beautiful serene place to honor our veterans,” Welch continued.
Santaniello said, “This is Veterans’ Day and we must remember the many freedoms we enjoy today are gifts that were given to us by our veterans and their service to our country.”
He added, “Let us always remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in our thoughts and in our prayers. We must remember the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers who served our nation. We must thank them and acknowledge their many sacrifices for they are our veterans and today is their day.”
Neal said, “There are about 20 million veterans that are alive. One of the difficulties and challenges for all of us today is that about nine and a half million are over 65. Why is that important? It’s important because it’s not just what we say here, it’s what we do at the veterans’ hospital in Northampton, the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. We made a commitment to those men and women and making sure that we honor that commitment should be of paramount concern to all of us a members of the American family.”
He stated that one million of those veterans are from the Iraqi war and the Afghanistan conflict. “Regardless of how we felt about Iraq, we honor their commitment to service,” Neal said. He noted that nearly 5,000 service members have been killed in those and 46,000 have been wounded in those missions alone.
Neal said, “That means that veterans services are going to be stressed and strained for years to come. Here’s the actuarial data: if you were 20 years old and you were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, you’re going to be in the care of the Veterans Affairs system now, based on life expectancy, for the next 60 years. It is our obligation as members of the American family to make sure that the veterans’ health care service functions correctly and appropriately.”
He continued, “This is a day when we pause. The first Armistice Day was celebrated in 1919. We look at the commitment that’s been made all along the way by these men and women who serve with distinction. We watch today the pride that they feel.”
Neal added, “That’s the pride that guarantees the cornerstone of our American constitutional system, the First Amendment because they defended the notion that you could even offer unpopular speech in America. They defended that right to assemble, that right to express religious purpose freely, that right to criticize your own government, that right to say what’s really on your mind. How precious that is.”