Top state officials mark Veterans Day with State House ceremony

BOSTON, MA , 11/ 11 / 13: Baton in hand is CW2 Stephen Martins( cq) conductor of the 215th Army Band MAARNG at ceremonies held at State House to mark Veterans Day.( David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo ) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 11ceremonies(2)
Baton in hand, Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Martins conducts the 215th Army Band of the Massachusetts Army National Guard at ceremonies held at the State House to mark Veterans Day.Credit: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Veterans, current military service members, and their families were honored by top state officials at a State House ceremony marking Veterans Day today.

“Thank you for your sacrifice to protect the freedom of us all,” Governor Deval Patrick told a crowd of more than 150 people in the State House’s ornate Memorial Hall. “I’m humbled to be in your presence.”

Along with a speaking program, the ceremony included the lighting of a candle for prisoners of war and those killed in action, the presentation of flowers to families of fallen servicemembers, a minute of silence, and the playing of taps.

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Two military veterans in the administration, Secretary of Veterans’ Services Coleman Nee and Health an Human Services Secretary John W. Polanowicz, spoke about the efforts the state has made to bolster aid to those who have served.

Treasurer Steven Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley, both gubernatorial hopefuls, also attended the ceremony, but did not have speaking roles.

During a musical interlude, however, Grossman, who served in the US Army Reserve, sang along as the 215th Army Band of the Massachusetts Army National Gaurd played the Army’s official song, “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

Also during the event, France’s consul general in Boston, Fabien Fieschi, presented the French Legion of Honor Medal to two American World War II veterans who had served in France.

In the middle of the almost two-hour ceremony, Patrick was given a slightly worn Red Sox baseball cap by military officers.

On a visit to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010, Patrick had given the cap to a commander in Afghanistan, who had passed it down to subsequent commanders there.

“What better day to bring it back than during this season of Boston Strong, Red Sox Strong,” said Major General L. Scott Rice, adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, as Lieutenant Colonel Tom Stewart and others presented the cap back to a smiling governor.

After the event, Patrick told reporters he had given a number of baseball caps out to troops overseas but ran out.

“I had one I was wearing and a couple of the officers, one of whom was here today, I gave the hat to. And he gave it to his successor in command,” Patrick said, adding that it had been passed down to another commander before it began its route back to him.

“It was really pretty touching and meaningful,” he said.

Later, in the afternoon, Boston held its annual Veterans Day parade downtown.

Sporting a blue coat and a rifle, Clarence Hubbard, 58, marched in it as part of a contingent of reenactors of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment organized during the Civil War.

He marches in many parades, but participating in Monday’s event was different and “emotional,” he said.

Civil War reenactor Benny WhiteThe Boston Globe

“As a vet of Iraq and Afghanistan, to me, today has a different meaning,” said Hubbard, who served in the Army from 1972 to 2010. He said he was thinking about his friends who did not come back from the battlefield.

After all the ceremonies are over, he said, “you still sit in reflection of the guys who are no longer here.”

Waltham resident Yvonne Vaillancourt watched the parade and said it was a wonderful event.

Later, walking past the State House, which is draped with a Red Sox banner, she bemoaned attendance at the parade, saying she would have liked to see more of the city come out to cheer on veterans.

“It would be nice if as many people were fans of our vets as are fans of the Red Sox and showed up at the parade,” she said.

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