ST. ALBANS — Patriotism and thanks reigned in St. Albans City Tuesday morning.
Following a parade under a massive American flag that flew above North Main Street, young children, adults, an estimated 2,000 local students, veterans, members of the Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans marching band, Mayor Liz Gamache and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I.-Vt. gathered at Taylor Park’s war memorial to celebrate U.S. military veterans.
With small American flags in hand, a crowd of several thousand sang, listened to speeches and thanked veterans.
People like Marlys Lemnah, a 67-year-old veteran from St. Albans and widow of Master Sergeant Richard Lemnah, smiled as the ceremony took place. Lemnah’s husband was a BFA-St. Albans graduate, who died at age 37 in the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1983.
“I’m a Gold Star widow,” Lemnah said.
After the National Anthem was sung speeches were given by a number of local and state community members. Mayor Liz Gamache went first.
“I’m just so moved to see our park so full of people from our community,” she said. “It’s a day we get together to express our gratitude.”
Gamache said that while Veterans Day was celebrated once a year, the freedom veterans have fought for are enjoyed year-round. For that, she said, veterans deserve much appreciation.
“I hope you will feel the embrace of your community,” Gamache told the veterans standing in front of her.
Capt. Zachariah Fike, operations officer of the Vermont Army National Guard, and the founder of Purple Hearts United Inc., took the stage next.
“I’ve had the great pleasure to have served my country for the last 17 years,” Fike said. “We should all rest easy knowing that these patriots are a staple in our community.”
He added, “The nation owes a great debt to these veterans. [They] have proudly carried that torch of liberty for all of us to see.”
Sanders, who is the chairman of the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee, also spoke about veterans and the type of treatment and benefits they deserve once they come home from conflict.
“Today is a day, we say — from the bottom of our heart — thank you for everything you’ve done for our country,” said Sanders. “You have defended us in our times of need, we must defend you.”
He went on to say that the 20 million or so veterans living in the U.S. today should have what they need in terms of healthcare, income, and housing.
“We are determined to make sure that this happens,” Sanders said to the cheers of veterans and others in the crowd.
Students took the stage next, with one representative each from St. Albans City School, St. Albans Town Educational Center, Georgia Elementary School, Fairfield Center School, and BFA-St. Albans. Preschoolers also thanked veterans.
Students talked about the importance of connecting past and future generations, following the honorable footsteps of those who have defending this country, and recognizing America’s “superheroes” as those veterans living right in local communities.
“They don’t have big and fancy costumes or cars,” said Georgia Elementary student Morgan Heth, “but they have two eyes on their face and hair on their heads. They fight for us so we can live free.”
She added, “Thank you, superheroes of America.”
Cooper Cioffi, a St. Albans City School eighth grader who led the student portion of the ceremony, said he volunteered for the role.
“I think it’s just important to give back to the veterans,” he said. “It’s the least I could do after what they did for us.”
Following student speeches, a roll call was read of all those local veterans who have passed away since Memorial Day.
Tim Hodet, a veteran who led the ceremony Tuesday, then paraphrased a quote from Laura Palmer’s book, “Shrapnel in the Heart,” saying, “I’m not sure their deaths were a waste, but their lives were most assuredly not.”
Ceremonial wreaths were placed in honor of those veterans who have died, and “America the Beautiful” was sung by the BFA-St. Albans chorus. The crowd also joined in.
“This is a day to remember veterans,” said Hodet. “As you go about your day today, remember them.”
Rev. Charles Purington closed the ceremony with a prayer.
Walking away from the morning’s event, students approached veterans in uniform to thank them. As Sheldon couple Art Heald and wife, Averill, 88 and 78 years old respectively, were making their way home, a young child dashed up to Art to shake his hand. He was in Europe as part of the U.S. Army during World War II, and after getting injured, spent 10 months in military hospitals.
“A rheumatic fever probably saved his life,” said Averill, “even though he almost lost it.”