PORTSMOUTH — Charles Peterson took his time.
The post adjutant for VFW Post 5390 read the names of every deceased member of the Post during a Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning — 274 in all. It took him more than 10 minutes in all, while the capacity crowd say in rapt attention.
While many were using their day off from work to catch up on some yard work or preparing for a family barbecue, veterans and their family and friends gathered to remember those who gave their lives for their country.
Post member Carlton Johnson read excerpts from an article in this month’s VFW Magazine, which lamented how Memorial Day has become “just another day off from work.”
Changing the date of observance from May 30 to the last Monday of the month to make for a three-day weekend has undermined the spirit of the day, he said. America’s “collective consciousness demands” that its citizens remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, he said.
Guest speaker and Post 5390 member Capt. Jeffrey Richard, USN (Ret.), reminded the audience that there have been 75 conflicts since the Revolutionary War, claiming more than 1.3 million lives.
A Vietnam War veteran who served aboard the USS Evans, Mr. Richard said he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during its dedication week.
“It was a very emotional day,” he said, adding that of the 58,195 names on the wall, 39,996 were soldiers age 22 and younger. Nearly 1,000 or them were killed on the first day in Vietnam, and another 1,448 died on their last scheduled date, he said.
“There never was a parade for the people coming back,” Mr. Richard said.
He urged everyone to visit the traveling replica of the Vietnam wall — 80 percent to scale — when it visits India Point Park in Providence June 4-8.
American will continue to thrive, Mr. Richard said, “if and only if its citizens realize that freedom comes with a price.”
Chris Norton, a Portsmouth High School junior, read his winning Voice of Democracy essay, entitled “Still Optimistic,” in which he made the case that the American dream is alive and well.
“Every day I meet people who live it,” Chris said. “There are students who stay up all night to work on their homework so they can get into medical school and become a doctor to cure cancer. There are friends who are signing up right now for the Coast Guard and ROTC programs in order to give back to the country that protected them.”
He’s witnessed the American dream even in China, he said. While traveling in Wuhan city on a study trip out of Bryant University, Chris said he asked Chinese high school kids, “What do you think of America?” To his surprise, “the first word they all said was ‘freedom.’”
Langdon Harris, a St. Philomena School, read his winning Patriots Pen essay, in which he described how a visit to Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy, France, made him appreciate the sacrifice veterans made to keep the country strong.
“Patriotism is participation,” Langdon said in concluding his speech.
Christopher Potts remembered
The program concluded outdoors, with VFW Post 5390 Chaplain Michael Nott saying a few words in honor of the late SSG Christopher Potts, a Tiverton resident who was killed on his 38th birthday in October 2004 when insurgents attacked a traffic-control post in Iraq. Post 5390 has a memorial in honor of Mr. Potts outside the building.
Cub Scout Pack 50 and Boy Scout Troop 82 the raised the American flag to half-mast, while guests gathered around for a salute and the playing of “Taps.”