PORTSMOUTH — Americanism can mean so many things to so many people, Lt. Commander Victor C. Schaefer, USN, told a group of veterans, local and state officials and other supporters during a Veterans Day ceremony at Town Hall Friday morning.
For Schaefer, the senior vice commander of VFW Post 5390 who’s completed several tours at sea including three deployments to the Mediterranean and Middle East and various multi-national exercises in the Pacific, Americanism means more than just driving “an Ford F-150 with a bunch of flags” or wearing a patriotic T-shirt.
He recalled his time, as a navigation and Naval operations instructor at the Pennsylvania State University NROTC Unit, watching 200 ROTC students ages 18 to 20 going through their weekly group training sessions on an athletic field.
“After a long day of pushing paperwork around, I was a bit frustrated and turned to the gunnery sergeant and said, ‘You know Gunny, it’s crazy how much paperwork and effort we have to put in, when 75 percent of these kids won’t make it through — won’t become officers. Seems like a waste,” he said.
The gunnery sergeant turned to him and replied, “You know, sir? I know that a lot of these guys won’t be Naval Corps officers, but I think with the time they spend here, we’re producing solid American citizens.”
Those words stuck with Schaefer.
“I began to think about what those who serve our country carry with them beyond the service, and what makes them the bedrock of America — the foundation of this country. I came up with values, history, and experience the veterans bring to our community,” said Schaefer, a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who’s now a student at the Naval War College in Newport.
“These values are honor, courage, commitment, respect, devotion to duty, service before self, integrity, excellence, character and connection,” he said, adding that all six branches of the Armed Services carries them forward, “whether they serve for two months or 30 years.”
On July 26, 1948, when Black Americans faced tremendous segregation, President Harry Truman desegregated the military, he said. Many feared revolt, but instead soldiers “upheld their core values of honor and respect,” said Schaefer. They carried this forward and advanced equality, “setting the standards for their fellow Americans.”
In 1972, American women couldn’t get a credit card or a loan without a man co-signing for them. But the Armed Forces welcomed women, and by 2015 all military jobs were open to them.
“Many pundits and so-called experts said the men would not accept the increasing role of women, but the veterans of this period upheld their core values,” said Schaefer.
And in 2011, while gays and lesbians faced discrimination in their private lives, the military opened the doors to them without exception, he said.
“Veterans have always been on the front lines of conflict. However, what is often overlooked is that our veterans have been the vanguard of American progress, showing the citizens of the word, and their home, what it means to be a good American,” said Schaefer.
He urged everyone to thank a veteran “not only for the sacrifices they made in uniform, but for what they continue to contribute to our country today.”
Addressing veterans, Schaefer told them, “Your responsibility as an American did not end when you took off your uniform. Whether you served for four months or four years, you have a duty to uphold the values, leverage your experiences, admit and learn from your mistakes, and be the best American you can be. Be a role model to your fellow citizens, because when your fellow American thanks you for your service today on Veterans Day, they don’t know whether you’re a combat hero or not. All they see is someone who served, who deserves respect, and is a pillar for Americans.”
Friday’s ceremony was led by Francisco “Cisco” Gutierrez, commander of American Legion Post 18.
“I spent four years in the Marine Corps and I don’t think I could ever repay what the Marine Corps gave to me. That’s why what I do here — to help repay that,” Gutierrez said.
When he served, he was one of the lucky few, he said.
“I worked in a laboratory and didn’t have to fight. But I got a great career, a trade that went right over into the civilian world where I joined a Space Shuttle program. What I learned in the Marine Corps helped me throughout my life,” he said.
After the indoor portion of the ceremony, the crowd moved outside to Legion Park in front of Town Hall, where they watched Carolyn Evans-Carbery, Project Blue Star coordinator and chair of the Portsmouth Honor Roll Committee, place a wreath with assistance by Ginny Hansen.
Boy Scout Troop 82 posted the colors, and the National Anthem was sung by Dillion Fesmire of the Portsmouth High School Choral Ensemble. The invocation and benediction were presented by GinaMarie Doherty, USN (Ret.), chaplain of the Department of R.I. American Legion.