DARTMOUTH — Over 150 veterans and their spouses attended a free breakfast sponsored by Rep. Christopher Markey and Dartmouth Friends of the Elderly Nov. 9 as a way to show appreciation for their services.
“Veterans are very important to us,” Dartmouth Friends of the Elderly President Maria Connor said. “We want to recognize them to the fullest. They have made a lot of sacrifices and this is a perfect way to say 'thank you.”
Council on Aging Director Amy DiPietro said veterans represent everything the community values: honor, bravery and patriotism.
“A simple 'thank you' doesn’t seem enough," she said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Keating echoed the sentiment.
“We don’t think enough of their sacrifice," Keating said. “This is a day of pride in our country. Thank God for our country and thank those that kept those freedoms alive for us.”
Keating also mentioned the benches and gazebo that are now part of the Veterans Memorial Grove outside the Dartmouth Street senior center. The memorial includes several benches with the names of Dartmouth residents killed in the line of duty, as well as bricks engraved with the names of those veterans who returned home or are still serving.
“I look at the benches as signifying all wars and all veterans,” Keating said. “And the walkway is home. The walkway is Dartmouth. Because when they close their eyes, it represents home and it’s like they never left.”
Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes told the veterans gathered that people "take for granted" the freedoms they defended.
Rev. David Lima gave the invocation, noting the struggle for many veterans continues when they return home from service.
“There aren’t enough resources for you,” Lima said.
Christopher Azevedo, recently named Southeastern Massachusetts Veteran of the Year, is working on a novel, "A Long Road Home: A Soldier's Journey From One War to The Next."
“I mentor a lot of veterans,” the New Bedford man said. “I understand PTSD and addiction. I’ve been clean for over five years. I have this intimate knowledge, which is why I want to help people — because I know what it’s like.”
Azevedo has said he "felt a calling" to join the military after 9/11, signing up with the Army National Guard. From 2003 to 2006 he was a small-unit operator in the elite 173rd Long-Range Surveillance Detachment and was active duty with the 42nd Infantry Division that was deployed throughout Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom. After struggling for a time when he returned home, he sought help from the Veterans Transition House.
“When you’re in combat multiple times a day, it’s like being traumatized, constantly, nonstop,” said Azevedo. “PTSD is unfortunately a gift that keeps giving.”
Azevedo took psychology classes and learned about his own brain injury, explaining to the audience that there is no cure for post-traumatic stress disorder, but there are tools and effective management procedures.
“If you save the vet. you save that family," Azevedo said.
He urged those supporting their struggling loved ones to be more sensitive to their needs.
“All wounds are not visible,” said Azevedo. “Just because you didn’t have your limbs blown off doesn’t mean you weren’t wounded.”
Veterans Transition House Director Jim Reid spoke about the nonprofit's various projects. The goal of the home is to provide shelter and services, with a special focus on healing from substance abuse and learning new life skills.
“We’re working hard to get this done for our vets,” Reid said. “We want to make the best use of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Dartmouth Veterans Service Officer Roy Oliveira said: “Our country owes a great gratitude to people like Chris."
Oliveira, who is retiring this year, told the audience to remember those who paid the ultimate price.
“Taking care of veterans is what I do,” Oliveira said. “It’s been a true honor to serve the veterans in Dartmouth. Once you’re gone, your stories go with you. So, share your stories and keep your stories alive.”
DiPietro, of the Council on Aging, said: “It’s our pleasure to serve this population. Every year it gets better and better.”
The 100th anniversary of World War I is Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.