MERRIMAC — Roughly 300 people came out Monday morning to dedicate a new veterans memorial to honor those who have served
The memorial depicts a soldier kneeling before a rifle, boots and helmet, and was the work of the 10-member Merrimac Veterans Memorial Committee, which raised money through state grant funding, donations and the sale of 280 memorial bricks.
The Veterans Day dedication drew plenty of people, both young and old, to the Church Street Cemetery.
"It seems today, looking out, that the whole town of Merrimac is here right now," said state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen.
DiZoglio went on to tell the crowd a story about her Uncle Joe, who was a World War II veteran, and her grandfather, who was a veteran of the Korean War.
"They taught me when I was just a young child that what you do when you see a veteran is, go up to them and you extend your hand, you look them in the eye and you shake their hand and you say, 'Thank you for your service,'" she said. "I will never forget that. This has followed me into my work in the community; it has followed me into my work in the state Legislature. We continue to say 'thank you for your service, and it is something we need to continue to teach our children in our communities."
DiZoglio also pointed to various sayings, photos and poems circulating on social media in support of the nation's veterans.
"That is all wonderful and it is a great way to demonstrate our gratitude toward those who have served," she said. "But there is nothing quite like looking somebody in the eye and extending a hand, extending a hug or some symbol of your affection and gratitude to an individual for putting their lives on the line for us."
She challenged the crowd to find a veteran to thank for their service sometime this week.
"It is the least that we can do," she said.
Veterans Service Agent Jeremiah Murphy said he thought he understood the many issues facing local veterans when he began his position a little more than a year ago but he was mistaken.
"This last year has really opened my eyes," Murphy said. "I see veterans from World War II and Korea that suffered through those wars and came home with scars of wars that, back then, went largely untreated. A lot of veterans I see now are from the Vietnam era who suffered more than any generation, the conditions of that war and the lack of welcome home they received."
Murphy also pointed to the large number of casualties inflicted by the use of the chemical compound Agent Orange in Vietnam.
"There were over 58,000 service members killed in Vietnam," he said. "Yet the deaths that are attributed to Agent Orange are believed to be over 300,000 and those numbers are increasing. Our office is regularly assisting Vietnam veterans from your community suffering from cancers, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, which we now know are all related to these chemical exposures."
State Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, also thanked the veterans in attendance for their service.
"This is truly a magnificently monument to our veterans," he said. "It is truly inspiring and I am sure we are all glad to live in a state and a country that honors its veterans in such an honorable way."
Mirra told the crowd of a pair of bills that the state House of Representatives passed recently that will expand access to health care and provide higher education for veterans, as well as establish a commission to design a memorial in honor of Revolutionary War hero Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to join the patriots.
"This is part of a promise we made to the men and women who serve," Mirra said.
Memorial bricks are still available for $100 each and can be ordered until February at www.brickmarkersusa.com/donors/merrimac.html.
Sgt. Daniel Clark, known as "The Singing State Trooper," led the crowd in a medley of songs from the different military branches along with "America the Beautiful" and "Proud to Be an American."
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.