Cmdr. McKnight speaks to Vets Day gathering

Melvin McKnight, commander of American Legion Post 10 in Barre, speaks to a Veterans Day gathering.

BARRE — Moe Fortier earned the right to sit and on Thursday — 69 years to the day the Barre Town man boarded a truck for a three-stop trip that ended in Korea — he arrived at City Hall Park armed with a lawn chair.

Though most other veterans who attended Barre’s Veterans Day ceremony sat on the granite apron surrounding “Youth Triumphant,” Fortier was comfortably perched on its perimeter. His back to the giant flag freshly draped over North Main Street, Fortier faced the podium set up in the shadow of the soldiers’ and sailors’ memorial and had a birds-eye view of others who served, including a couple — World War II veterans Tim Hoyt and Winton “Bucky” Wallbridge — who served further back than he did.

Hoyt has been a forever fixture at Veterans Day in Barre and this year’s passing of Homer Fitts threatened to thin the World War II ranks at the ceremony both regularly attended.

Enter Walbridge, a 94-year-old World War II vet who was coaxed to a post-parade ceremony he’s rarely — if ever — attended by the offer of a free ride in Joe Illuzzi’s Hummer.

Like Hoyt, Fortier, Pelkey and other veterans in attendance, Walbridge deserved to hear the “thank you for your service” message that was repeated over and over and over again during a solemn ceremony that attracted a crowd that easily exceeded 150 people — 250 if you counted members of the three school bands and the J-ROTC unit from Spaulding High School.

Far more turned out for the brief parade through downtown, but a significant chunk gravitated to the park to listen to a series of speakers — some, like Ron Tallman, who went to war and others, like Mayor Lucas Herring, who didn’t but appreciates those who did.

Chuck Barney, chair of the Barre Area Veterans Council, kicked off the ceremony with what would quickly become an oft-repeated reminder.

“Today is the day to remember and say: ‘thank you’ to those who have served, (are) currently serving, or are future service people,” Barney said before turning the microphone over to Tallman.

Tallman acknowledged the recent ending of the War on Terror, while noting that war and the wars that preceded it were fought by folks who left their families, homes and lives behind in defense of democracy.

“They fought to protect our country and maintain our way of life,” he said, calling on everyone to protect basic freedoms many have fought and died for.

“The defense of freedom is not just (up to) those in the military,” he said. “It’s each of us that shares that duty and responsibility.”

Tallman, who closed with a salute to fellow veterans, stressed the importance of voting, speaking out against injustice and volunteering.

Herring expressed similar sentiments — praising veterans for their service and sacrifice and suggesting others should do the same.

“We don’t have to join the armed services to adequately defend our way of life. We can protect our freedom simply by maintaining it here in America and showing respect and appreciation for our veterans,” he said.

Herring said a simple “thank you” would suffice and turning out for Veterans Day ceremonies sends an important signal.

“Your presence here today is a tribute to veterans and their families,” he said.

By the time Melvin McKnight, commander of American Legion Post #10 in Barre stepped to the podium, he lamented those who spoke before him didn’t leave much unsaid.

Instead of sticking to a scripted speech McKnight explained he had pondered what Veterans Day means to him, and the answer was tricky as he suspected it was for others who served.

“To a veteran every day is Veterans Day,” he said, suggesting: “Nov. 11 is a day to remind the other people — the other 90% who’ve never served — that there are veterans and we need all the support and thanks you can offer.”

On Thursday they got some in Barre where Doris Fournier laid a wreath at the base of a podium after most of the speeches were over, the school bands offered a musical tribute to each branch of the military and two Spaulding High School students played echo taps as the crowd stood silent.

Senior Camden Simpson sounded taps on his trumpet while standing at the perimeter of City Hall Park, while sophomore Jack Kelley echoed his performance bar for bar from the top step of Aldrich Public Library.

Fortier, who sat in his trusty lawn chair through most of the ceremony, stood while taps was sounded, as he did while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. When it was over, he folded his chair and swapped stories with Pelkey and was thanked for his service.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

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