PEPPERELL -- The air all through Pepperell was filled with patriotism and gun fire on the morning of Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Festivities in honor of the Armed Forces convened at 7 a.m. with a free breakfast for veterans at the VFW post, concluding over six hours later across town on Mill Street with the commemoration of what is now Veterans Bridge.
As veterans filed out of the VFW after breakfast, the Sixth Middlesex Regiment, dressed in Revolutionary-era garb, and members of the VFW post, active duty servicemen and veterans alike, gathered on the field in front of the Vietnam Monument outside of the building, lined up to begin the ceremonious firing of the rifles in salute of the veterans.
Prior to the rounds being blasted, a wreath of flowers was laid against the monument.
"It's just in memory of veterans," said Hill.
Smoke from the rifles billowed across the lot in thick clouds as onlookers watched in silence, heads bowed in remembrance of all those who served and the lives lost in battle. Following the firing, the iconic taps emitted from a bugle being played on the hill.
A convoy followed the group to the Bunker Hill Memorial across from Town Hall, where the ceremony was repeated.
This was the first year the Sixth Middlesex Regiment has played in Pepperell, but they've been playing at local military ceremonies for the past 15 years.
"We want to be able to honor those who served," said group member Jim Curly.
"But we're also trying to keep history alive because more often than not it's forgotten," said Robert Sigmon.
Selectman Stephen Themelis was one of several spectators present for the ceremony. He said it was crucial to keep the ceremony alive in honor of those who have given their lives for the country.
"It's very important, especially for the youth, to respect those who served the country and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "We need to carry on the tradition for future generations."
Spectator Jean Connolly, whose husband Bob and son Bobby have both served in the military, said the ceremony was important to remember the sacrifices of all veterans.
"If we don't remember the people who serve, then we are a forgotten country," she said.
The ceremony concluded at what had been the Mill Street Bridge, but was dedicated that day to members of the Armed Forces as the Veterans Bridge. After standing for 74 years, the original Mill Street Bridge was torn down in 2011 and replaced by the state Department of Transportation. The project was completed this past spring. Following the reopening of the bridge, the Pepperell Historical Commission, in collaboration with the VFW post, came up with the idea to name the bridge in honor of the country's veterans, according to Historical Commission Chairwoman Diane Cronin.
"We felt that with the pride we have in the bridges in our town, and how long they've been here, it seems like a great connection to the type of feelings we have for our veterans and our military," she said. "So whenever someone drives over the bridge they'll always think of our country's veterans."
The partnered groups took the idea to state Rep. Sheila Harrington, who said the town could choose the bridge's name using the Home Rule Petition. After receiving approval from the Board of Selectmen on March 5 to dub the bridge the Veterans Bridge, the ceremony date was aptly set for Veterans Day.
As several dozen residents gathered on the bridge for the ceremony, Harrington was one of the speakers to address the crowd about the dedication of the bridge.
"Today's our day to pay thanksgiving to the heroes that walk among us ... we need to acknowledge you every day of the year, but this is the day which our nation sets apart to say thank you so very much for what you've done," she said.
Themelis also spoke on behalf of the Board of Selectmen.
"Today we dedicate this bridge as a lasting tribute to all our veterans that have served, sacrificed and protected our great country from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Many sacrifices have been made by many patriots in the building of our nation, but none greater than the sacrifices made by these brave men and women," he said.
Following the speeches, the final rifle salute was sounded and Hill cut the ribbon crossing over the bridge, officially commemorating it as the Veterans Bridge.
Carolyn Campbell, resident of Pepperell and spectator of the commemoration, said she was thrilled the veterans were being honored with the bridge.
"It was a wonderful ceremony," she said. "My husband was in the Army for 20 years. He would have loved to have been here."
Cronin credited Franek Kiluk of the Historical Commission with taking the reigns on the project and making it come together.
"It was once in a lifetime for us," he said. "Pepperell is a very patriotic town; we honor our veterans any way we can. Naming a bridge for them seems like the least we could do."