VETERANS DAY AT JOHNSTON MEMORIAL PARK: Gratitude paid to those who keep us free

To those who've served: Johnston thanks you


George M., a retired Sky Soldier, wore his black 173rd Airborne Brigade hat with pride, sitting as straight as he could in the first row of seats arranged in Johnston’s War Memorial Park.

The High School Marching band approached; their instruments warm and their heels clicking on the pavement.

George shivered a little in the cool autumn air.

As a resident at Morgan Health Center in Johnston, George was driven to the park in a small bus to attend Wednesday’s Veterans Day Recognition Ceremony.

The nurses accompanying George and around five other veterans who live at the skilled nursing and rehabilitation center offered George and his fellow veterans blankets. He refused. They all refused the blankets.

George has a hard time talking. But his hat, his posture and the attention he paid during Wednesday’s memorial service spoke volumes.

The nurses felt uncomfortable sharing George’s last name, but the partial identification was no problem. George wears his hat because he’s proud.

He’s a proud Vietnam War veteran. Airborne.

The soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are known as “Sky Soldiers.” They’re still a proud fighting outfit, and serve as the U.S. Army's Contingency Response Force in Europe, providing rapid forces to the United States European, Africa and Central Commands.

George served his country, and lived, returned home, lived some more, and now he’s surviving.

He deserves some thanks. Those gathered in the park Wednesday were there to thank him.

George wore a bright read sweatshirt and stepped from the bus to his seat with the aid of a walker. Hanging on the crossbar of his metal walker, a tiny American flag flapped in the morning breeze.

Veterans Day is about giving thanks to those who served our country.

On Wednesday morning, the town’s top officials delivered gratitude from the park’s cement stage.

“And once again to the veterans, I cannot thank you enough and I mean it from the bottom of my heart,” said Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena. “I look at my father’s picture every day in my office in his uniform, and I just say, ‘Dad, thanks. Dad thanks.’”

Polisena’s father, Joseph Anthony Polisena, served in the Korean War. His name has been engraved on a stone slab to the left of the stage, with other soldiers who fought in Korea, defending the South from the North.

“I always mention my father,” Polisena told the crowd. “My father was a Korean War veteran — very young when he signed up. In fact his name’s on the wall over there. And as I said, he never talked about what he did. He was decorated; had many medals and was very proud of serving his country. And I’d ask him questions about his experience in Korea, and he would tell me that although he was extremely proud to serve, it was a difficult time for him and for the soldiers that served along side of him.”

Polisena exercised some of the rights secured for him by America’s veterans — chiefly, his First Amendment right.

“And of course, as I say every time I speak, and talk about my father, he would get extremely upset when he would hear the politically correct saying ‘it was a Korean Conflict,’” Polisena recalled. “He’d say to me, ‘Hell no, it wasn’t a conflict, it was a war!’ And I’d say, ‘alright pop, you’re right, you’re right.’”

Polisena spent most of his time on stage Wednesday thanking the nation’s veterans.

“Most importantly, I’d like to thank the veterans that are here,” Polisena said. “Because if the veterans didn’t do what they do, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be able to speak. Veterans Day is a time when we recognize those men and women who serve.

When you see a veteran that you know, or you see a person that you don’t know that’s in uniform, a man or woman, thank them, say ‘thank you very much for what you do.’ They don’t look for any accolades. But they deserve the accolades.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here