Onset VFW fetes vets at ceremony

Nov 14, 2022

“Less than 1% of Americans have ever seen the sun set from a U.S. Navy ship. I have.” 

So boasted the t-shirt worn by Wareham native and Navy veteran Neil Westgate.

“It’s something you can’t believe,” Westgate said. “You’re out in the middle of the ocean, nobody else around. You see the sun go down like it’s sinking in the water. It’s something else.”

Westgate was one of many local veterans who attended the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the VFW Dudley L. Brown Post 2846 in Onset on Friday, Nov. 11. The ceremony included a free lunch served by members of the Wareham High School Key Club, readings of student essays and appearances by local officials.

“We need to appreciate the veterans who came before us,” said Alan Slavin of the town Board of Selectmen, wearing an American flag bowtie, “the ones who are serving now and the ones who will serve.”

Slavin said that gratitude for veterans should not be expressed only one day each year, and that he would do everything he could to bring the Veterans Day Parade back to Wareham next year.

“Neither speech, nor ceremony, nor parade, nor moment can repay the debt owed to the ladies and gentlemen who have worn the uniform and served the republic,” he said, reading from the town Veterans Day proclamation.

Westgate joined the Navy in 1969 and spent four years as a boiler technician on the U.S.S. Concord, a supply ship based in the Mediterranean Sea. His service took him to Italy, Greece, Spain and other locations throughout Europe.

“I learned that the U.S.A. is one of the greatest countries in the world,” he said. “You get to see people in other countries, how they live in poverty. You really appreciate it when you come home.”

He lived in Maynard for 40 years before moving back to his hometown. 

“I have mud between my toes,” he said. “I had to come back to the salt water and dig up some clams.”

The VFW’s tables, decorated with red, white and blue, were covered in cards for veterans made by Wareham students. Vietnam veteran Richard Murdock enjoyed reading the card placed at his seat, which read “Thank you for making the stars shine in the American flag.”

“It made me feel better,” said Richard, a lance corporal in the Marines who lost much of his hearing in the war. “It was very nice.”

Lori held onto Richard tightly as Steve Ruiz sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” 

Ruiz was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer in January. His doctors gave him no more than six months to live. Now, the cancer is gone, and those same doctors are baffled. Ruiz thanked God for his recovery and declared America to be “the best country in the world,” encouraging young people to exercise their right to vote.

“Steve has been very seriously ill for over a year now,” said Col. Matthew Stanton of the Wareham High School JROTC, “and you will not find a more devoted citizen to this community. He fought it like a warrior.”

Gary Franklin, his son Jay and Malcolm Phinney came to the ceremony in full Revolutionary War garb. As members of the Wareham Minutemen and Militia Company, they reenact the lives and times of the original veterans.

“As time goes by, history becomes diluted,” Phinney said. “I’ve noticed that the Veterans Parade and things like that were dwindling. We decided that if we got involved, we’d bring a little color and a little attention to it. I think it’s working.”