By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Standing besides six granite posts installed inside the city’s veterans memorial across from City Hall in Brown Square, World War II veterans and others rang memorial bells each time the name of a recently deceased local veteran was read by Mayor Donna Holaday.
The ringing of memorial bells and the posts, donated by a local family, marked the newest custom in the city’s longstanding tradition of honoring those each Veterans Day who fought and died for this country.
The city’s veterans agent, Kevin Hunt, again served as master of ceremonies for the roughly 90-minute event that began around 10:45 a.m. with a short parade from Bartlet Mall to the steps of City Hall. Right at 11 a.m. accompanied by the un-choreographed striking of church bells and a stiff wind, Hunt began the day’s official program.
Joining him at City Hall were City Councilors Ed Cameron, Richard Sullivan Jr., Ari Herzog and Robert Cronin along with School Committee member Steven Cole. U.S. Rep. John Tierney was also on hand and spoke briefly regarding the federal government’s commitment to make sure the nation’s veterans hospitals, clinics and bases were fully funded.
“It’s the least we can do,” Tierney said.
Hunt discussed the history of Veterans Day, which used to be called Armistice Day in reference to the end of World War I, and the treatment of veterans returning home from wars spanning back to the American Revolution. World War II veterans were among those applauded and labeled as heroes by the country.
“It seemed as though we couldn’t do enough for them,” Hunt said.
But returning Vietnam War veterans couldn’t say the same as people called them warmongers, baby killers and drug addicts. Television shows like “Hawaii Five-O” and almost all movies with the exception of John Wayne’s “The Green Berets” portrayed them negatively as well, Hunt said.
When it came time to read the names of recently departed veterans, those standing by the granite posts, called bell masters by Hunt, would strike them loudly twice depending on what branch of the service the veteran served.
Hunt said the posts and bells were installed about two weeks ago from a generous donation by the family of Richard Banks, the longtime Newburyport resident who worked at General Electric for more than 30 years. Each post represents a wing of the country’s armed forces, Air Force, Marines, Navy, National Guard, Army and Coast Guard. The bells will be stored inside Holaday’s office and brought out during major community events, including Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Afterward, the parade continued down Green Street, Merrimac Street and up State Street past the CVS parking lot on Pond Street, where parade participants had mustered earlier. The parade made its way to Veterans Cemetery where Holaday placed a wreath by the cemetery’s flag pole. The playing of taps by the Newburyport High School marching band was followed by a rifle salute by members of the Newburyport Police Department’s honor guard. Following the end of the ceremony, local Brownies replaced old American flags waving beside each of the veterans laid to rest inside one of New England’s oldest veterans cemetery.
The parade and accompanying ceremonies marked the centerpiece of the city’s weekend schedule of Veterans Day events.
Saturday, the Elks Lodge on Low Street was the venue for a free breakfast for veterans. The following day, Civil War enthusiasts Bill and Liz Hallett conducted a 90-minute “Footsteps of Heroes: Civil War Walking Tour of Newburyport.” Following yesterday’s parade, Michael’s Harborside hosted an invitation-only meal for Newburyport veterans and one guest. The annual event is sponsored and paid for by Michael’s Harborside to honor Newburyport veterans.