Veterans receive their just recognition
As Joseph Cabral was being handed a certificate and having a pin of appreciation affixed to his jacket, he couldn’t help but compare the applause he was receiving on this day to a dramatically different reaction to his military service many years ago.
“I was spit at when I came home from Vietnam,” he recalled, shaking his head at the painful memory. “I was in full uniform, and it was awful. I was humiliated. For a long time, I didn’t talk about it. I kept it quiet … That’s why this ceremony is so meaningful. It makes me feel as though I was part of something special.”
Cabral was one of 29 residents of Maplewood at Brewster who were honored on Nov. 8 in a pining ceremony that was hosted by the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod Hospice (VNA). Each branch of the U.S. military was represented, and veterans who served during every American conflict since World War II were in attendance. The patriotic one-hour ceremony included a pledge of allegiance and the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” all performed by pianist Sarah-Jane Mason, a board-certified music therapist for VNA pf Cape Cod Hospice.
The veterans were accompanied by spouses, siblings, sons and daughters. They listened attentively to the words of appreciation and sang along to the songs, some with tears in their eyes, others with their heads bowed, and still others with smiles of gratitude.
“We are gathered here today to pay tribute to the men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Lisa Barriere, volunteer program specialist with VNA of Cape Cod. “We thank you all for your service … and for advancing the universal hope of freedom and unity.”
The focus was firmly on the veterans, which is what struck 90-year-old William Robbins, who served in the U.S. Army in 1946-47.
“This is one of the few situations I’ve seen in which veterans are honored where there seems to be a concern for the individual,” he said. “It’s due to the time that is taken for someone to walk across the room and hand you a certificate and place a pin on you. This is something you can remember, and I appreciate it.”
With every veteran there was a different story to tell. Robbins, only 17 at the time, was stationed at Sugamo prison in Tokyo, Japan after World War II ended, where he guarded Japanese prisoners who were on trial for war crimes.
“I started as a guard and I became a jailer, which was a promotion because I didn’t just stand in a tower looking out all day and night but was responsible for the prisoners’ activities during the day,” he said. “That allowed me to see them as people, and there were friendships that developed between the prisoners and guards, some that carried on for years. We were told to treat the Japanese fairly. That was Gen. MacArthur’s position. That was significant in terms of the support we received from the people of Japan and the interaction between the two countries.”
John Reynders, 85, remembered serving with the U.S. Army in Germany in the late 1950s at the same time as the king of rock ‘n roll. “I remember Elvis [Presley] was there driving a tank around,” he said.
He was grateful to be part of the pining ceremony.
“I didn’t serve at a time of war, but it’s pretty nice to be here for this,” he said. “It’s important that people remember, especially at Veterans Day.”
Cabral, 79, retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel after serving in the Air Force and Marines and doing two tours of duty in Vietnam. When he looks back, he says, “There was a lot of heartache. I saw things that I did not want to see. I didn’t realize I had PTSD until 25 years after I got out.”
But the memories that came flooding back to him during the ceremony were mostly positive.
“This ceremony reminds me of the people I served with,” he said. “I am so proud of my fellow service members.”
Paul Tambolleo, a VNA nurse and clinical services manager for VNA of Cape Cod Hospice, was also pinned in honor of his service with the U.S. Coast Guard from 1994 to 2001. For Tambolleo, 46, the ceremony provided the opportunity to thank those who preceded him in defending our country.
“We stand on the shoulders on the people who are being pinned today,” he said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who served before us. To be a part of this as a veteran is my honor … I think we should all remember that everything comes at a great cost. The one thing that ties all veterans together, whether you’re 107, 47 or 27, is that it’s the same mission, just at different times.”