Five days after a rancorous election, Democratic and Republican officials joined together, along with members of assorted service outfits, to celebrate something bigger than politics and other sources of societal division.
Mayor Anthony LaRosa and Deputy Mayor Timothy Moriarty, Democrats, joined Republican Councilwoman Nadine Bell and members of the Rocky Hill Police and Fire Departments, military fraternal organizations, and Boy Scout Troop 121 for the yearly commemoration of Veterans Day at Center Green Park on Sunday morning.
La Rosa offered a simple message to those who have given so much of themselves to protect American liberties. "Thank you," he intoned softly.
State Representative Anthony Guerrera (D), who serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee in the legislature, likewise attended the event and remarked on the need to "take care of our men and women who fought to protect our freedoms." He also suggested a rethinking of how schools approach Veterans Day.
"Instead of closing the schools for the holiday, why not keep them open and have veterans in our schools?" he mused.
Raymond LaVoie of American Legion post 123 and Commander Aaron Freyler of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2138 presided over the ceremony. VFW Chaplain Maurice Wyman delivered the invocation and benediction.
The VFW Ladies Auxiliary was also well-represented at the event. Auxiliary president Carleen Zembklo stated that "at least six members" from her group came out to show support.
Two Boy Scouts, Chris Cerpa and James Pickett, were publicly recognized for having recently attained the rank of Eagle Scout. The mayor made a special point to thank the entire troop "for being here every Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremony."
The most solemn moment of the commemoration was the annual placement of wreaths at the base of the park's war memorials. A starker silence fell over the already somber crowd, as men removed their hats and many onlookers brushed away tears.
LaVoie invoked words of unknown origin that are famously linked to Father Dennis O'Brien, a former Marine Corps chaplain, to articulate sentiments that many in attendance were so viscerally experiencing:
"It's the soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press. It's the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It's the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It's the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial. It's the soldier who salutes the flag, serves under the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives the protestor the right to burn the flag."
The poem cited by the late chaplain references the soldier's role in preserving the rights of individuals to express differences, even in a spirit of dissension and discord. He might have also added that it is the soldier that provides the impetus for citizens to set aside those differences and come together around something much larger than common agents of divisiveness.