TOWNSEND — Like more than 10,000 other cities and towns across America, Townsend honored its veterans this weekend in a celebration that was extra-meaningful in that it is the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day.
Formerly known as Armistice Day, Nov. 11 signifies the end of World War I and the beginning of a national tradition. At 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, church bells rang out in recognition of all those who served in the U.S. military.
The opening ceremony at VFW Post 6538 on Main Street began with the words: “We are here to honor all those who fought in the fields, on the sea and in the air.” More than 100 visitors gathered around the flag, tethered above the monuments, to solemnize veterans of all services and all generations.
The 30-minute service ended with the playing of a lone bugle. As “taps” blew over the loudspeaker, the flag blew in the crisp autumn air, as if brought to life by the collective spirit of heroes past.
Betty Mae Tenney was the principal organizer for the event and addressed the crowd, who donned a variety of uniforms from Cub Scout blues to Vietnam-era fatigues.
“He is the anonymous hero who is now walking the beat, or bagging groceries,” she said. “He is the loudmouth at the local bar or the wounded warrior that pins his medals on with a prosthetic hand.”
Tenney made the point that not all veterans are of combat or of bloodshed, but that the sacrifice is yet equal and the all-inclusive recognition reflects that, and asked onlookers to “just say thank you.”
The nearby church bells were inaudible against the recurrent breeze, silent and fleeting, yet loud and enduring like those for whom it tolled.
Rhona Deware was there for just that reason.
“I came out to honor the service and sacrifice of my dad and all the other veterans, through all the years and all the wars,” said the Townsend woman, whose father served in the Army from 1940 to ’45.
Townsend is home to an estimated 300 veterans of all ages. And to countless widows.
“We come every year,” said Raynold Jackson, a Navy submariner. “We need to keep remembering. Otherwise, the duty they paid will be forgotten.”
In a bit of prescience and accidental homage, the Nashua Valley Cub Scouts were there, wearing their pack number 11 patch on their left shoulders. Local Boy Scout troops carried and presented both the Stars and Stripes and the town banner.
“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gave us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the courts, who protects the Constitution,” Tenney said. “Just say, thank you.”
After the somber Veterans Day ceremony at the VFW monument in the morning, the mood became more festive.
In a series of events, at various venues, that featured residents entertaining residents, Townsend was alive with sound. Beginning with the solemnizing chime of church bells at 11:11 a.m. to commemorate military service, the rhythm moved on to the Senior Center where the Community Chorus rocked the house with old favorites from stage and film.
The Townsend Historical Society picked up the beat with their annual members’ meeting and concert. This year’s theme was the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. The guest of honor at the concert was the only resident who was alive for that historic signing,100 year-old Catherine Wilson.
Wilson was born September 18, 1918 and is currently the town’s oldest resident, and carries the Boston Post Cane to prove it. Spending most of her life here, Wilson was awarded the Cane earlier this month. Each town in Massachusetts has a similar cane that is held by the oldest resident, passed down to the next person upon death. Although many towns have lost track of their prestigious Post Canes, Townsend continues staunchly with the tradition. In fact, Wilson’s grandfather was the first resident to hold the cane.
With her Cane beside her, still bearing the fingerprints of her grandfather, Wilson had a front row seat for the THS’s yearly concert by the Bob Page Jazz Trio at Memorial Hall. Taber Morrell is president of THS and wore a borrowed WWI-era army uniform for the event. A few attendees also wore period outfits while Main Street outside the hall was lined with Model-T cars from a century ago.
“Every year, for our annual members’ meeting we like to have a concert for the public,” said Morrell. The event serves multiple purposes including informational for members, fundraising for THS and entertainment for the community. “We like to have a theme attached to the event,” he said. This year’s topic was an easy choice given the 100 year anniversary celebration and the fact that more than 300 residents are veterans.