By Don Eriksson
PEPPERELL — Ever since its establishment as the federal and state Nov. 11 holiday in 1954, local folks have always observed Veterans Day in ceremonies large or small, but none have had the impact as those observed since the 1990s.
Old newspapers revealed that, 50 years ago, Cong. Edith Nourse Rogers and Rep. Chester A. Waterous, fresh off election victories, had addressed the Townsend American Legion that day.
Thirty-nine years ago (1969), at the height of the Vietnam War, Pepperell’s VFW and American Legion Post laid wreaths at the war memorial in front of the Community Church with just 12 present — including the late Michael Callahan (VFW commander) and the late Fred Primus (Legion commander).
Twenty years ago, in 1988, Townsend VFW Post 6538 enjoyed a “larger than usual” crowd of 150 at the Park Monument in West Townsend, including Boy and Girl Scouts, Campfire Kids and guest speaker Philip Tolland, ex-POW and past commander.
In the 1990s, former Peter Fitzpatrick School principal Dr. Joyce Smith initiated Veterans Days talks with school children, VFW Post 3291 quartermaster Tony Saboliauskas said. He is one of the organizers of today’s observances.
A full school program, such as the Pepperell schedule listed below, began in 2002. It involves active-duty military personnel and veterans of all branches of the military. A high school veterans breakfast program began about five years ago.
Saboliauskas has invited members of the active military and the Marine Corps League to participate in the following:
* Friday, Nov. 7 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. — Peter Fitzpatrick School visit, grades K-2. From 9 to 9:30 a.m., coffee and pastries with faculty and guests and an auditorium program from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
First- and second-graders will present a patriotically themed program. Guests may address the children if they want. All are usually accommodated.
* Monday, Nov. 10 from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. — buffet breakfast at North Middlesex Regional High School. One or two service members at each table with five to 10 students to discuss Veterans Day and the military service.
* Monday, Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — Varnum Brook Elementary School, grades 3-5. Groups of two to four veterans visit individual classrooms to speak directly to students about veterans and the military service for about 15 minutes per class.
There is an assembly program at 10 a.m. where at least one representative from each branch speaks to the entire student body. The children present a patriotically themed program. Lunch is provided at noon.
Veterans Day is always celebrated on Nov. 11. However, if that date falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is the designated holiday. If it occurs on a Saturday, either Saturday or Friday may be so designated.
It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Hostilities ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for Nov. 11, 1919. Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926. An act approved May 13, 1938 made Nov. 11 a legal holiday.
In 1953, Al King, an Emporia, Kan., shoe store owner, began a campaign to turn Armistice Day into an “all veterans” day. The Emporia Chamber of Commerce became involved and, with the help of then U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, a bill was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower on May 26, 1954.
The act was amended in 1954 to replace the word ‘Armistice’ with ‘Veterans’ and has been known as Veterans Day ever since.
The word ‘veteran’ is derived from the Latin term ‘veteranus,’ originally meaning a person of long experience or skill. After the American Revolution, it came to be associated specifically with former soldiers of old age who had fought for independence.
As time went on, “veteran” was used to describe any former member of the armed forces or a person who had served in the military.