Hampton Honors Veterans at Ceremony

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Ceremony Honors Veterans

By Nancy Rineman

Hampton Union, Friday, November 16, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Ann and Jeffrey Conger of Barrington remember their son's ultimate sacrifice for the country during a Veterans Day observance in Hampton on Sunday. U.S. Army SPC Jesse Conger's name has been added to the Global War On Terror Monument that stands in front of Hampton's American Legion Post 35 honoring those soldiers who lost their lives in service since Sep. 11, 2001.
[Photo by Nancy Rineman]

Carrying on a United States tradition that dates back to 1919, an assembly of about 75 veterans, their families, and appreciative community members, met in front of American Legion Post 35 in Hampton Sunday morning.

"Today is the day we honor and pay tribute to the living, breathing veterans," said Post 35 Commander Ralph Fatello, who was flanked by the first responders, police and fire, and the Winnacunnet High School USMC Jr. ROTC color guard on one side and by American Legion veterans on the other.

Hands were raised as Fatello recognized each branch of service and first responders as well.

"Some who are here today don't consider themselves heroes," Fatello said.

"These are common, decent, everyday citizens who heard a calling from deep within their very souls, and they put their lives on hold and answered that call," Fatello said.

Fatello urged everyone to take the time on this day to call any family member who is a veteran to thank them.

"Make the simple effort and just do that," Fatello said, "to let these veterans know that their service was worthwhile."

Winnacunnet High School Principal Randy Zito, a U.S. Army combat veteran, was this year's guest speaker. Fatello told the crowd that Zito was in the 39th Regiment of the 97th Infantry Division, finding himself "waist-deep in the rice paddies south of Saigon."

Zito began by saying that as a high school principal, he felt it only fitting to provide a short history lesson, but with "no quiz" at the end.

Zito said he was a young soldier far away in Vietnam in 1968 when Congress first established the 4th Monday in October to be Veterans Day. Zito said New Hampshire and other states, however, would honor these veterans on Nov. 11, the original Armistice Day, or "temporary cessation of hostilities." It wasn't until 1975 that the U.S. Congress returned the federal observance of this holiday to Nov. 11.

Zito shared many personal accounts of veterans he has known on a day when we pay tribute to nearly 25 million veterans.

"On this day we also celebrate the three million surviving veterans who served and fought in World War II," Zito said. "My father is 90 now, and struggles to remember things, but has not lost his memory of the time he spent in North Africa, Sicily, England, Normandy and Germany."

Zito said his father has always spoken dearly of the British, saying that they are the United States' closet allies.

"He also told me about the honor between American and German medics and doctors in North Africa in 1943," Zito said. "He told me that German and American medics and doctors worked side by side, sometimes caring for the same soldier."

Today Zito's parents live in Florida, and every Wednesday they picnic with their friends - many WWII veterans or their surviving spouses. Two of them are German veterans, Zito said, and both fought for Germany during the war.

Zito's son, Capt. Jonathan Zito, is an Air Force C-17 pilot, who flew 400 combat sorties in Iraq. He is a 1996 graduate of Winnacunnet High School and a 2001 graduate of the University of New Hampshire.

"It has been six long years since Sept. 11, 2001," Zito said, in speaking about his son. "Only three months after entering flight school, he would learn that he too would be experiencing combat in a far off land."

"Today his squadron is in the middle of a six-month deployment supporting the War on Terror," Zito said. "Several of his classmates from Winnacunnet and practically his entire UNH Air Force ROTC unit are abroad serving our country."

Zito said he admits he doesn't know how to resolve conflicts with the forces of al Qaeda.

"As I see it, we can either stand by, or fight these extremists who want to end our Western influence in the Middle East," Zito said. "They clearly stand in the way of democracy and peace."

Zito said he feels the United States should never turn its back on nations who suffer under these enemies.

"I believe that hundreds of thousands shall die by the hands of these terrorists if we do not support the good people of Iraq and Afghanistan," Zito said.

"On days like today, I am reminded that the life I enjoy with my friends and family could only be because of the bravery and heroism of our war veterans," Zito said.

Inside the Legion Hall following Sunday's observance, Elaine Weatherby, a sixth-grader at Hampton Academy, talked about what Veterans Day means to her. Elaine sang the National Anthem that morning, first at an 8 a.m. observance at Hampton Beach, and then beside the Global War on Terror Monument at Post 35.

"I'm honored to be here," Elaine said, "and to support them." Both of her parents were there as well, along with her uncle, Post 35 bugler Mark Weatherby. Elaine said she felt that veterans appreciate hearing the words, "thank you," "especially from a young person," she added.

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