WESTPORT — Brad Fish recently learned a statistic that surprised him.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, 452 men and women from Westport have joined the U.S. military.

"You should be proud," Fish, the town's veterans agent, told the crowd at Saturday's Veterans Day ceremony. "I thought that was a big number for such a small town."

A stinging wind added to the cold at the heart of Beech Grove Cemetery, where residents — many of them veterans — gathered for the morning service, a solemn tradition marked by taps, a gun salute, a wreath-laying and prayer.

 

Behind a podium, American flags swayed in the soil next to the graves of Westport veterans spanning the generations. Spectators, in and out of uniform, removed their caps as "The Star-Spangled Banner" echoed out from speakers.

"To me, Veterans Day is a day of reflection, much like Memorial Day," retired Marine Lt. Col Donald Elbert said, honoring the "unflinching courage and selflessness" of the men and women who have served. "I would ask that we reflect on what a fortunate country we are."

Elbert paid special tribute to what he called the United States' first veterans, Gen. George Washington's troops who survived the merciless winter at Valley Forge with hardly enough food, clothing and ammunition, and carried on to defeat the British.

"Millions of veterans have fought and died on battlefields here and abroad to defend our freedoms and way of life, and to defend other nations so that they may have similar freedoms," Elbert said. "I ask you, can we rightfully celebrate the joy of our freedom and way of life without remembering the great price paid for that freedom?"

On behalf of the town, Select Board Vice Chair Shana Shufelt thanked veterans for their service abroad and at home. She said military experience shaped veterans into the skilled, well-rounded people they are, and they brought the lessons they learned back home.

"Your communities need to learn from you," she said to the veterans. "I urge you to share your stories because we need to hear about duty and honor and loyalty and commitment and fear and courage and bravery. We need you to continue serving us by sharing that."

Shufelt specifically urged struggling veterans to talk about their "burdens" with others so they can get the help they need. She also gave attention to the family of service members for their important sacrifices and support.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 145 member Joe Aquila reminded the crowd that in volunteering to serve their country, veterans risked their lives.

"When America had an urgent need they were the first to raise their hands without thinking twice about it," he said. "They were proud to take a stand."