HARVARD — The Bromfield School hosted a morning reception to honor town veterans on Friday, Nov. 7, reprising a tradition begun three years ago. Before that, there was no Veterans Day program at the school.
Bromfield Principal Jim O’Shea noted the historic gap, said history teacher Kathleen Doherty. “He asked why we were not doing anything” to mark the holiday, she said.
O’Shea started the wheels turning for a student-driven Veterans Day event, now in its third year.
This year, Bromfield junior Jake Basile ran the show, both orchestrating the event held in the school library and serving as master of ceremonies. Invitations with RSVPs were sent out to known veterans in town, he said. About 10 guests showed up.
New to the roster this year were Midi Bourgeois and Doug McClure.
Bourgeois, formerly of Washington, N.H., moved to town a year ago. An Air Force veteran who served in the Korean war, he visited Fort Devens en route to Korea. “I had just time for a physical and a haircut,” he said.
Doug McClure is a Bromfield grad and town EMT. When the town welcomed him home from his second tour in Iraq last year, he received a hero’s welcome, including a Fire Department escort and a ceremony at Town Hall with speeches, refreshments and a band. Inactive now but officially still in the reserves, McClure said he might continue in the service but hasn’t decided yet.
Speakers included Jake’s grandfather, Jack Henn, who was in the area on a visit. Resident veterans who spoke included McClure, Jim DeZutter and Harvey Wilkinson.
Henn, a Navy veteran, served 50 years ago in peacetime, he said, but even then the military had to be ready at a moment’s notice. He said he knows this because it happened on his watch.
Stationed in England, he was aboard a Navy destroyer on a training mission, dropping depth charges on a sub in a simulated battle scenario, when a “flash” message came through for his ship to “cease operations, rearm, refuel to prepare for a strike,” he said. On arrival in San Diego, he saw Marines guarding an atomic bomb. Although the strike never happened, the nation had readied its most destructive weapon. “Even in peace, the nation was prepared to use it,” he said.
Wilkinson, a retired U.S. Navy captain, also served during peacetime, 1977 to 2007. He’s still active in the reserves and a recruiter for the Naval Academy, he said. The last time a Bromfield grad entered Annapolis was a few years ago, he said, noting he’d welcome the chance to usher in another recruit from the school.
Wilkinson, a Navy pilot, got his wings after graduating from Cornell University. While stationed in London, he witnessed the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He retired in 1984 and moved to Harvard four years later. During the 1980s and early 90s, he flew Navy planes in Florida on weekends, he said.
Wilkinson said equipment during the Desert Storm era ” was not very impressive.” Then, in the Reagan years, “a ton of money” was pumped in, reviving the “pride and professionalism” of the military, he said.
Jim DeZutter served in the Air Force and Jake asked him to talk about what it means to be a veteran and why it is important.
“You are the reason,” DeZutter said, pointing to the young audience. “You are the future of our great country and you can help make it better.”
Drawing pearls from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, DeZutter said it’s not the critic’s words that count but actions in the arena, although risks often outnumber rewards.
The speech stresses that a would-be hero who “valiantly falls short” deserves praise versus someone who stands idly on the sidelines. “His place will never be with cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat,” DeZutter said, quoting Roosevelt.
DeZutter retired after 27 years of active duty. A few years later, a defining moment in world history helped define his military career, as well. Watching the symbolic end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War era on TV as the Berlin wall came down, he experienced a laser-like revelation. “That’s why I served,” he said. “That’s why I served!”
About 90 students in grades eight through 12 attended the Veterans Day program.