Aakshi Chaba

A bell was rung 21 times at the steps of City Hall on Sunday morning to mark 100 years since the end of World War I and to commence the Elm City’s recognition of Veterans Day.

Veterans Day, an annual tribute to current and past members of the U.S. military, was commemorated in New Haven with an hourlong ceremony on Nov. 11. The event featured short speeches from veterans and the placement of wreaths on the World War I monument on the New Haven Green.

“I think this gathering is so important, and it really gives us a chance to stop and think about the meaning of Veterans Day,” said Tomas Reyes, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp’s chief of staff and the first speaker at the event. “Each year, this location is set aside so we can take time to reflect on the heartfelt gratitude and pure appreciation this community should feel for the men and women who served, and who still serve in the United States armed forces.”

This year’s Veterans Day also marked the centennial celebration of the end of World War I. While the holiday was first named Armistice Day by Congress in 1926 — and is still celebrated around the world under the same title — U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed the commemoration Veterans Day in 1954 to celebrate the service of American military members in all wars rather than just those who fought in World War I.

Before Reyes’ speech, New Haven Police Department Sergeant Clifford Potter said the Veterans Day Prayer, Sergeant Robert Reed recited the Pledge of Allegiance and soloist Ruth Rosa sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In his remarks, Reyes also spoke about the history of Veterans Day, noting that the community can honor veterans by sharing the significance of the day with children and by supporting ongoing government programs to assist ex-military servicemen and women. He ended his speech by reminding attendees that Veterans Day is about respecting those who have made sacrifices for the country and considering “what we can do now for them.”

Reyes’ speech was followed by remarks by Sergeant Charles Pickett, commander of the newly formed American Legion New Haven Post 210 and English teacher at New Haven’s Sound School.

Pickett spoke about New Haven’s involvement in World War I, mentioning that 19,000 New Haveners registered for duty in early June 1917 and that 261 residents died during the war.

Referencing Laura Macaluso, author of “New Haven in World War I,” Pickett said that the one thing that stuck in her mind about the way World War I changed New Haven was how everyone worked together to support the American military members in France, in comparison to today’s increasingly polarized society.

“This feeling of mutual cooperation didn’t last, but today, in 21st-century America, it is a momentary relief to remember that at one time, Americans from across different economic, color, religious lines came together quickly and generously … for the greater good,” Pickett said.

Pickett’s remarks were followed by a rendition of “God Bless America” by Rosa and the recitation of a poem called “Empty Boots,” written and spoken by U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Jerome E. Howard. Peter Cannon then played “Taps,” a military call played during flag ceremonies and at U.S. military funerals, on a small trumpet.

Colonel Kenneth Gertz, the final speaker at the event, reflected on the past wars in which thousands of military servicemen and women lost their lives and highlighted the importance of thanking both veterans and current serving members.

“War is hell,” Gertz said. “And we all pay the sacrifices. If you have an opportunity, thank a veteran. Be thankful for those who gave their tomorrows for their today. We all gave some, some gave all.”

Attendees of the event said they came to honor the veterans and show their appreciation for the sacrifices those men and women have made.

Michael Brandy, who was at the event with his family, said he attended because many of his family members were veterans, and it was important to remember that “freedom comes at a steep cost.”

Kyle Drieek said he attended primarily because Pickett taught him in school. Drieek added that, regardless, it was important to show the veterans that “they have our support.”

“I’m here representing the mayor, and we have always honored the veterans, especially given the New Haven history in preparing soldiers for the wars,” Reyes told the News.

Veterans Day became a national holiday in 1938.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu