By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY — Why do we have the freedom to decide where to work and live? Why can we vote and travel where we wish without asking for permission?
“There are places in the world where people cannot do any of these things,” said Charlie Church of Shirley, one of eight veterans invited to an assembly Wednesday at the Shirley Middle School in honor of Veterans Day.
“We have these freedoms, largely because of our country’s constitution and because of our veterans past, present, and future,” said Church, a Vietnam veteran and Navy submariner.
Church also serves as historian and chaplain of the Shirley American Legion post.
As students listened intently, Marine Corps Sgt. Alex Hollings explained to the audience of 425 what it means to fight and defend your country.
“We are all here to defend this country. We’re all here to serve this country. We all signed up for one reason, to protect and serve this country,” said Hollings, a member of the 25th Marines assigned to Devens.
“Veterans Day is about the sacrifices that we make,” Hollings said, motioning to the other veterans in the school’s auditorium.
“Let me tell you, my life isn’t that bad. But there are people out there who are in harm’s way. Before us, there were gentlemen like these that were out there in harm’s way with obstacles that were a lot worse than the ones we face today,” Hollings said. “They came out on top not just for themselves, but for us, so we can have the life that we live today. To me, my father served in Vietnam and I thought Veterans Day was just another day off.”
Chris Demarcken, who lives in West Boylston, had a different experience during World War II, when he was a young boy and moved to Belgium with his family.
“During the war, we had no vehicle, no telephone, no radio, no means of communication. We had a German guard in the house at all times and we were forbidden to speak English,” Demarcken said. “We knew what it meant to be hungry at all times. We knew what it was like to be cold during the winter, and what it was like to be scared all the time.”
While motioning to the servicemen and women on stage, he noted, “We owe so much to all these people. I hear many, many times from people, ‘Shame on us for sending young men and women to fight in a foreign land.’ We can never say thank you enough to our veterans and to those people who gave their lives.”
Also in attendance were Norman Albert, A World War II Marine veteran, and former commander of the Shirley American Legion, and Alfreda Cromwell, currently a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves and a Shirley police officer.
Shirley Middle School Principal Brian Haas said the school puts on a Memorial Day program each year, but it’s the first time that it has done a Veterans Day event.
Haas said he initially contacted Shirley resident Joe Landry, a World War II Army veteran and former commander of the Shirley American Legion about doing a presentation for Memorial Day so the kids would understand the significance of the day. Landry was the driving force in organizing the program.
Haas said as a result of that discussion, “we felt the same thing would appropriate for Veterans Day and explain to the students why they aren’t in school that day and to educate them.”